Republicans must not have a high opinion of their supporters.
Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been boisterously accusing Democrats lately of scheming to “pack the courts” if Biden won the presidency — the votes are still being counted — as if their base wouldn’t notice (or care about) the easily fact-checkable dishonesty of this self-serving allegation. But … still.
In fact, packing the courts is exactly what the Republican administration and its minions in Congress have been energetically doing nonstop since even before Donald Trump was elected.
I’m not just making this stuff up to make a political point. You can look it up.
Bald-faced hypocrisy is a feature, not a bug, of this GOP-dominated political moment in America.
Trump and the GOP’s leading lights have repeatedly said that their No. 1 priority (even over fighting the coronavirus pandemic, apparently) is seating originalist, conservative judges — meaning jurists who refuse on principle to factor American social evolution into their interpretations of our 229-year-old Constitution — on the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts.
They have extravagantly succeeded, because congressional Democrats don’t have the votes for good-faith oversight of Republican overreach.
By the end of President Trump’s first term, his administration and Congress will have presided over the confirmations of three very conservative and very religious Supreme Court justices (two of them stolen [Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barret] and one strong-armed [Brett Kavanaugh]) and also 215 uber-conservative judges on federal courts of appeal, district courts and the Court of International Trade, according to the Heritage Foundation, as reporter by Breitbart.
“No president in the past four decades has appointed more judges in a first term,” Breitbart noted. “The only one who appointed more was Jimmy Carter, who appointed 248 — but he had the advantage of an expanded federal judiciary.”
But that’s still not enough for our egotistic current president, who compulsively and constantly tries to outdo his predecessor, former president Barack Obama. Obama appointees still represent nearly 40 percent of federal judgeships, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Trump’s only account for about 25 percent.
“That means Trump will need a second term if he is to establish a solid ‘constitutional conservative’ foundation for the federal judiciary,” Breitbart asserted.
Pray he doesn’t get the chance.
The overarching Trump/GOP goal of packing U.S. federal courts with super-conservative Christians is revealed by its nomination process. Nominees, Breitbart reported, “have been vetted by conservative legal authorities, including the Federalist Society, which promotes the originalist school of constitutional interpretation, which, by definition is conservative. Thus, Trump’s appointees are considered more reliably conservative than the nominees of a typical Republican president.”
So, they sought out not only conservative nominees but really, really conservative ones, who would reliably rule in ways counter or even opposite to the wishes of a majority of Americans, 59 percent of whom are liberal (35 percent) or moderate (24 percent), according to a Gallup poll in January. Only 37 percent are conservative.
Another “tell” of the Trumpian GOP’s disingenuity is the answer to this question: “Why have so many vacancies on the federal bench been available during President Trump’s term?”
Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is very lucidly supplied by this letter to the editor (below) in the South Jersey Times newspaper by Gary Kuehnapfel Jr., of West Deptford Township:
“Why were there so many vacancies on the federal courts before Donald Trump became president — which Trump often brags about filling?
“During President Barack Obama’s tenure, when there was also a Republican majority in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., shut down the whole court confirmation process. This includes his refusal to hold a hearing on Obama’s 2016 high court nominee Merrick Garland.
“The Senate obstructionism handed a raft of judicial vacancies to Trump to fill. After Trump was sworn in, McConnell insisted that nothing was more important than confirming as many federal judges as possible, to have a conservative impact on the federal bench. That’s ‘packing’ the court.”
What Republicans have been loudly fearmongering about lately as they worried the 2020 election might go south for them is what they apprehensively believe victorious Democrats might do regarding federal court appointments. I think they just feel so guilty that they’ve stolen so many appointments through dishonorable double dealing, that they’re sure the Dems will do the same in revenge.
As columnist Elie Mystal wrote in a recent edition of the progressive Nation magazine:
“It’s essential to remember that the reason Republicans have long sought to control the courts is that [ultra-conservative courts would] serve as an antidemocratic check on the liberal agenda — and not just for an election cycle but for a whole generation. There’s not a single Democratic law or program that a court controlled 6-3 by conservative justices [as now exists on the Supreme Court] cannot frustrate or block.”
However, Republicans nightmares about Democrats packing courts as they have done is sheer speculation.
Nonetheless, it would be eminently fair for a Democrat-controlled Senate to expand the court at least by two justices to rectify the manifestly dishonorable confirmations of Gorsuch and Barrett.
That would be a partial court balancing, not a “packing,” and would still leave the august deliberative body with a 6-5 conservative majority.
The takeaway here should be that the Republican-controlled administration and Congress have been resolutely packing the court for the last four years.
They have no idea what Democrats suddenly in power might do, but, in any event, they are really in no position to whine or indignantly call the kettle black.