Federal Courts and Nominations

Bill Press: Democrats: Don’t get mad, get even!

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg participates in a discussion at the Georgetown University Law Center on February 10, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Last week, I advised saving up some outrage for Donald Trump’s latest. Glad I did, because this week we saw on the part of Trump and his Republican Senate boot-lickers perhaps the most outrageous display of hypocrisy in the history of American politics.

Even for Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, the level of crass partisanship following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was shocking. Ginsburg’s body wasn’t even cold before McConnell gleefully vowed to schedule a vote on her successor as soon as possible. Within hours, Trump pledged to announce his nominee to replace her by the end of the week and demanded that the Senate act before November 3. And, one by one, spineless weasels that they are, Republican senators lined up to promise a yes vote – get this: even before they knew the name of his nominee! He could nominate a chimpanzee and they’d vote for it.

Which is the exact opposite of what Republicans said in 2016, of course, when McConnell blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland by ruling that no new justice be confirmed during a president’s last year in office. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” he piously preached.

But, of course, that was then, this is now. And, except for Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, the same senators who insisted on “giving the people a voice” in 2016 are denying the people any voice in 2020. Even though the election’s already underway. In many states, voters are already casting ballots.

That’s beyond outrage. If it was wrong for Obama to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016, it’s wrong for Trump to do so in 2020. Period. But that doesn’t matter to 50 Republican senators. Suddenly the same rule no longer applies. They’ve thrown principle out the window by repudiating their promise of 2016 and plowing ahead with a vote to replace Ginsburg before November 3. That’s not hypocrisy. That’s treason.

The big question is: What can and should Democrats do about it? To me, it boils down to the first rule of politics: “Don’t get mad, get even.” How? Four steps.

First, procedurally, according to the rules, Senate Democrats should do everything they can to delay a vote on Ginsburg’s replacement until after November 3: refuse to meet with the nominee; object to every motion; fail to show up for hearings; challenge everything McConnell tries to do; shut down the government. Take no prisoners. This is war. Anything goes.

Second, redouble efforts to elect Joe Biden. If anything should energize the Democratic base, this is it. The president matters, and the Supreme Court matters, because everything is on the line, including: health care, climate change, racial justice, marriage equality, gun safety, and, especially, women’s rights. It’s the number one reason to dump Trump.

Third, as important as winning the White House, Democrats must regain control of the Senate. That’s the best way to stop Trump and Trumpism in their tracks. If you haven’t already done so, go to ActBlue.com and make your contribution to one of the key Senate candidates: Sara Gideon, Maine; Cal Cunningham, North Carolina; Jaime Harrison, South Carolina; Theresa Greenfield, Iowa; Mark Kelly, Arizona; John Hickenlooper, Colorado; Steve Bullock, Montana; Al Gross, Alaska; Amy McGrath, Kentucky.

Four, once Democrats win back the Senate, be prepared to drop the nuclear bomb. First, by restoring the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Then, by adding two more seats to the Court. After all, there’s nothing sacred about nine seats on the Court. We’re just used to it. The Constitution sets no fixed number. It started out in 1789 with six seats and has gone as low as five and as high as 10. Why not 11?

Full disclosure: I once opposed adding seats to the Court. But that was back when Republicans played fair, and before they undermined the legitimacy of the court by playing political games with Merrick Garland and, now, with a replacement for Justice Ginsburg. As Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, told me this week: “If the public starts to view the Court as illegitimate — a stolen seat from Merrick Garland, a justice installed while voting is going on — then the addition of two seats would be restoring that legitimacy.”

Republicans must know that’s the price they will pay. This is hardball. They stole two Supreme Court seats. We add two more to replace them. Fair is fair.

(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of the new book, “Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump (And One to Keep Him).” His email address is: bill@billpress.com. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)

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