Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Ranting On...Merrick Garland and the Republicans Supreme Court Battle

And with that, we enter a new phase in the political year.  This morning, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the Susan Lucci of the Supreme Court, to be the nominee to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia.  As one would expect from this president, the history of the moment was well-observed.  You could see it in the way that Merrick Garland teared up at the beginning of his speech, as well as President Obama's pointed quoting of a current U.S. Senator who is likely to oppose the nomination on simply political grounds.

For the reality is, if you were to remove election year politics from the equation, Merrick Garland would be an incredibly easy nominee to confirm.  A pedigreed judge and the Chief Justice on the second-highest court in the land, his credentials are impeccable.  A Harvard-educated lawyer, attorney during the Oklahoma City bombings, and a jurist on the DC Court of Appeals (which has been the launching pad for Chief Justice Roberts, as well as Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Ginsburg), Garland has been floated as a potential Democratic nominee for at least ten years.  I remember frequently reading that either he or Sotomayor would be the appointee of a President Kerry, and Obama has interviewed Garland twice before to succeed Justices Stevens and Souter.  Senators such as Orrin Hatch have repeatedly called him an excellent judge, and fought hard for him to get his current appointment.

However, the Republican Party has become entrenched, and Garland seems incredibly unlikely to be given a hearing, much less the opportunity to serve on the Supreme Court as has clearly been his lifelong dream.  Despite having a relatively moderate voting record (some Democrats should be coughing harder than Republicans when it comes to his view on crime & punishment), Garland's association with President Obama, especially with less than a year left of his presidency, has made the Republicans vitriolic to a man they would normally embrace.  We saw that a few weeks ago when sitting governor Brian Sandoval, an actual Republican, was dismissed by the Senate GOP.

This lack of pragmatism is difficult to understand, especially considering the dynamics of this November.  Perhaps there is a little too much sand in Mitch McConnell and the RNC's ears right now considering they seemed genuinely surprised in 2012 when Mitt Romney lost, but their nominee looks very likely to be either a deeply offensive businessman or a man John Boehner once referred to as "Lucifer."  Hillary Clinton runs as high as nine points ahead of Trump in some national polls, a walloping that would almost certainly ensure that Mitt Romney loses Senate seats he currently holds in Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.  Merrick Garland may not be Antonin Scalia (thankfully he's far from it), but he's definitely going to be more moderate than what a President Hillary Clinton and a Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will allow on the floor of the Senate in a few months.  McConnell's betting on Trump is a foolish and deeply risky decision, one that could cost the Republicans on a number of different issues such as gun control, the death penalty, and campaign finance.

The fact that they can't see that, and they are blinded by their blistering hatred of President Obama (who is clearly throwing them a bone here if they'd be willing to take it) is galling and proof that they have no understanding of the reasons behind Donald Trump's rise in their party.  The Republicans, years ago, unleashed a torrent of hatred toward President Obama that their brand has never recovered from (namely the rise of Sarah Palin and Mitch McConnell's "we will oppose him on everything" tactic), which has allowed Donald Trump to rise.  You subtract the government shutdowns, the birth certificate controversy, the lying campaign around Obamacare, and you don't have Trump.  Hell, you probably have President Romney.  By dismissing all decisions, even ones they would normally agree with, of the president (excepting the occasional trade agreement), McConnell has put his party in a position where no one knows what they stand for but only what they stand against, and that's not a great electoral strategy as the #NeverTrump movement has learned.

The fact is that Mitch McConnell would have voted for Merrick Garland in 2014 if this opening had come up, and that's a cold hard fact that I think most everyone will agree with.  Seven sitting Republican US Senators, in fact, voted for Garland when he was last before the Senate in 1997 (for the curious, Sens. McCain, Roberts, Coats, Collins, Inhofe, Cochran, and Hatch).  Orrin Hatch has been effusive in praise for the man, and it's hard to imagine, say, Mark Kirk wanting to take an ardent stand against a Chicago-born justice.  The American people aren't going to vote specifically on the Supreme Court, but they have picked up on the attacks the Republicans have thrown at the president in the past eight years, and it's turned off enough people that a Donald Trump, who is coming from those who advocated an "I Hate Obama" strategy, can emerge.  And claiming the American people should have a say is not going to hold water with pretty much anyone since he's ignored what the American people said in 2008 and 2012.

It's hard to say, quite frankly, how this plays out.  It seems next to impossible for the Republicans to give Garland a hearing, but they're also going to take a lot of intense pressure from the media and you can bet both Sanders and Clinton will be calling for hearings.  I imagine that Merrick Garland will at least get audiences with a couple of Republican senators (Orrin Hatch seems like he'd be too much a stickler for decorum not to meet with him), and Obama likely is coordinating with some of the more respected and/or conservative members of the Senate caucus (think Feinstein, Heitkamp, and Manchin) who will surely come out for this candidate in the days ahead to paint a portrait of a party willing to compromise versus one that won't.  I feel genuinely terrible for Garland, who in some ways is going to be a pawn in this process after clearly earning a spot on the highest court in the land, but I think he knew that when he signed up.  The Republicans are playing a risky game, and the fact that they can't see that it's obstructionism like this that caused their Trump quagmire on the campaign trail may be the scariest thing of all in this nomination battle.

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