Updated: Sep 30
Assistant Opinions Editor
On September 18th, 2020, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of pancreatic cancer. Almost immediately, the cogs of politics were in motion as Republicans went on the offensive while the Democrats attempt to hold the line until presidential results roll in. The Republicans may have a majority in the Senate and the Presidency, but the Democrats have an ace up their sleeve that they have been especially eager to employ: the knowledge that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnel employed the same tactics Democrats are employing now, and successfully.
In 2016, Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnel denied former President Obama a Supreme Court nominee upon the death of Justice Scalia. McConnel relied on the upcoming elections to stall and grind out Obama’s actions, a plan that ultimately paid off with the election of President Trump. Now, the ghost of McConnel’s actions come back to haunt him as Democrats have one word for the current situation-. As McConnel rushes to replace the late Ginsburg: hypocrite is the word that comes to mind. However, is this indeed a case of hypocrisy on the part of McConnel and his Senate Republicans, or is this just politicians playing the political game?
Before we answer that question, let us refresh ourselves on the recent history of the Democratic Party’s sainthood when it comes to the process of appointing judges in general. In 2002, Democrats, then the minority party in the Senate, successfully filibustered former President Bush’s nominee, Miguel Estrada, for the Court of Appeals in D.C.. Their reasoning? The Columbia and Harvard graduate lacked “experience”, although he served as an assistant to multiple crucial offices in the Federal government.
Harriet Miers was practically bullied out of applying to the Supreme Court. While the absolutely shameful tactics used by Democrats in the appointment processes of Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas, demonstrate their willingness to resort to extreme tactics just to fulfill their political agenda. If Democrats can play political cards such as filibustering and bringing in dubious sources to discredit the reputation of Supreme Court nominees, why shouldn’t Republicans be able to refuse Obama’s nominee on the grounds that they simply disagreed with the nominee’s vision of the law? That is, after all, the exact reason why Democrats fought so bitterly to oppose the appointment of Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Harriet Miers.
Hypothetically, if the roles were reversed with the Senate being majority-blue in 2016, and the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh instead being in the Democrats’ favor, I can say with certainty that Senate Democrats and Chuck Schumer would have undertaken the exact same measures and efforts to stall. They would have then appointed their own nominee in the same order Senate Republicans and President Trump did, and are trying to do once again.
So, to answer the question of Republican hypocrisy, no, McConnel and the Republican Senate are not being hypocrites. They are politicians using the power the electorate delegated them to see their vision through, and they are taking advantage of a situation that greatly favors them. In other words, they are astute politicians taking advantage of a massive political opportunity. While it is regrettable that this “political opportunity” is in fact a reference to the death of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, it's simply the reality of the matter.