The political world was rocked Tuesday when Justice Anthony Kennedy announced that he’ll retire at the end of July. This announcement was Christmas for conservatives and Doomsday for liberals since President Donald Trump now has the power to establish a conservative Supreme Court for an entire generation.
There really isn’t anything Senate Democrats can do to prevent Trump’s SCOTUS nominee from being confirmed since now the Senate only needs a simple majority. How did the battle over the highest court in the land get so bitter? Let’s take a stroll down selective memory lane.
It was in 2013 when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) established the infamous “nuclear option,” which allows a simple majority in the Senate to approve all judicial nominees with the exception of Supreme Court appointees. At the time, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) actually warned his Democratic colleagues, saying “You’ll regret this, and you may regret this a lot sooner than you think.” Well, Reid and the vast majority of Senate Democrats passed the nuclear option in a 52-48 vote. It’s worth noting that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is the only sitting Democrat who voted against the nuclear option.
Fast-forward to February 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. Several days later, President Barack Obama announced that he had chosen Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacant seat. However, as Senate majority leader by then, McConnell halted the confirmation process by invoking the “Biden Rule.”
That was a 1992 suggestion from Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) that the Senate should not approve Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year and allow voters to decide. It was the definition of dirty politics, but McConnell keeping the vacant SCOTUS seat arguably paved the way for Trump to win the presidency since conservatives knew what was at stake even if they weren’t thrilled with the candidate.
Then in January 2017, just days after Trump’s inauguration, he nominated Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill Scalia’s seat. Obviously, Democrats were still bitter (and frankly still are to this day) about the McConnell derailing Garland’s confirmation. So they were going to do everything they can to prevent Gorsuch from being confirmed despite his qualifications.
At the time, the nuclear option did not include SCOTUS nominees, and McConnell warned them he’d be willing to change the rule if Democrats didn’t play ball. They didn’t. So they forced McConnell’s hand and he changed the rule and by April, Gorsuch was confirmed.
Back to the present, Trump now gets to choose another appointee from his list of 25 perfectly qualified conservative candidates, and the left is in complete freak-out mode. What’s hilarious is that Democrats are trying to use McConnell’s 2016 political maneuvering against him, saying that the Senate should halt the nomination process until after the election. But even the Washington Post had to call out their BS since McConnell stressed the Senate shouldn’t approve nominees during a presidential election and not during midterm elections. Plus, Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have conveniently forgotten that the Senate confirmed President Obama’s SCOTUS nominee Elena Kagan in August 2010, just months before those midterms.
However, it was certainly hypocritical on McConnell’s part when he said “it’s imperative that the president’s nominee be treated fairly” regarding Trump’s pending appointee after McConnell had single-handedly blocked Garland’s confirmation.
So where do we go from here? Well, Trump will nominate someone and with the simple majority of the Senate, Republicans will confirm that nominee. And there’s really nothing Democrats can do about it… at least in the short term. Perhaps Democrats will take Supreme Court vacancies more seriously in 2020.
But today, Senate Democrats in states that Trump won handily are in a tough situation. Folks like Joe Manchin (D-VW), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Claire McKaskill (D-MO) and Jon Tester (D-MT) will either irritate Trump voters in their states by voting against his nominee or irritate the Democratic base by voting in favor of the nominee.
No matter what happens, the politics surrounding SCOTUS going forward will get ugly.