September 24, 2020 10:46:19 AM
For all their crawfishing now about when it's appropriate in a presidential term to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, no one captures the shamelessness of the Republican majority in the Senate more than South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
In 2016, shortly after Antonin Scalia died, opening the way for then President Barack Obama to try to fill that seat on the high court with someone less conservative, Graham helped block that from happening.
"I want you to use my words against me," Graham said at the time. "If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, 'Let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.' And you could use my words against me and you'd be absolutely right."
More than two years later, with Donald Trump installed in the White House, Graham repeated that sentiment: "If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump's term, and the primary process has started, we'll wait till the next election."
When it became apparent, however, that this scenario might actually play out in Trump's first term, Graham began to walk back his previous pledges. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who would oversee confirmation hearings, now appears to be solidly on board with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to rush through this year Trump's choice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
It's not politically surprising that Republicans have changed their tune from four years ago, when they steadfastly maintained how inappropriate it was to vote on a high court nominee since Americans were getting ready to decide on who the next president would be. With Ginsburg's passing, they have a chance conceivably to tilt the court to the right for decades to come. That opportunity could pass them by if they don't act now and then Trump loses in November or they lose majority control of the senate.
Still, if Republican senators fail to keep their word, they could open a Pandora's box in which whoever is in the majority will try even more strenuously to turn the presumably impartial high court into a offshoot of their party. Already Democrats have threatened that if the Senate approves Trump's nomination for Ginsburg's seat, and if Democrats subsequently win the presidential contest and retake control of the Senate, they may try to ram through legislation to "pack the court" with a few extra justices appointed by Biden.
That could create a cycle of judicial one-upmanship, with each party adding justices every time it holds the Senate and the White House at the same time.
Finding a successor for Ginsburg showcases everything that's dysfunctional about Washington -- how both parties are determined to stack the deck for their short-term interests instead of doing a little thinking about what's best for the nation for the long haul. This constant back and forth, this taking back what you said so sincerely just a short time ago, explains so well how Washington rarely gets anything of substance done. Few if any of the people in power can be trusted.
Maybe it was a bad idea to establish the precedent of a president's last year being a Supreme Court-free period, but it was one that the GOP leadership created. It should live by that rule in 2020.
Then after the election, no matter who wins, senators in both parties should sit down and work out the rules going forward, including possibly reinstituting the 60-vote threshold for confirmations to the Supreme Court. That would avoid the currently corrosive situation in which slim majorities can run roughshod over the minority party.
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