The Supremely Republican Court: McConnell Style

9 mins read

False patriotism. Will to power. Disruption. If President Donald Trump’s term were a work of fiction, readers might well analyze him and his band of GOP cronies through these lenses, and then put away the book, relieved to close the cover on the darkness.

Unfortunately, Trump is real, as is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who often seems to function as the puppet master behind the screen (think Wizard of Oz). Right now, McConnell is tugging on every available string to force Republican-appointed federal judges to retire so he can replace them with younger, even more conservative judges. He has his sights on no less than 80 judges, including at least 24 on the circuit courts.

This drive to confirm young conservatives is nothing new for McConnell. Republicans have already green lit close to 200 “Trump judges,” including one quarter of the court of appeals bench, but McConnell’s tactic of applying pressure to sitting judges signifies a new level of sleaze. Clearly, Republicans are worried about losing the White House, the Senate, or both.

McConnell has mastered manipulating the rules to the GOP’s advantage.

Last year, over the objection of every Democratic senator, McConnell used the nuclear option to shorten the time for debate on certain judicial nominees, from 30 hours to a mere 2 hours. To explain his actions, McConnell claimed to be ushering a return to “a more normal and reasonable process for fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities.”

McConnell also has obliterated the tradition of blue slips—which senators have filled in to show they approve of circuit court nominees from their state advancing to confirmation. In the past 100 years, only five judges who failed to receive two blue slips were confirmed to the bench, but under Trump, seven circuit court nominees have been confirmed despite Democratic home-state objections.

And who can forget Merrick Garland and McConnell’s insistence on keeping a Supreme Court seat open in an election year? “Give the people a voice in filling this vacancy,” he pled. Yet, when asked in 2019 if he would fill the spot should a Supreme Court justice die before the 2020 election, McConnell responded, Oh, we’d fill it.”

Thirty-seven year old Justin Walker, a McConnell protégé, has emerged as the poster child of McConnell’s judicial strategy. When Thomas Griffiths announced his retirement from the DC Court of Appeals, McConnell tapped Walker. (Griffiths claims he faced no political pressure from the Majority Leader.) Only seven months ago, Walker sat for his confirmation hearings for the Western Kentucky District Court with an unqualified rating from the ABA. Yet in the midst of a pandemic, McConnell called the entire Senate back to Washington, D.C., for Walker’s confirmation. And that’s just the beginning. As of mid-May, McConnell has Judiciary Committee votes on six federal judges scheduled and is eyeing 29 additional judges.

At question is how the judges will respond to any pressure from McConnell. They are under no obligation to retire. And it’s just possible that some of the judges may well not want an extreme conservative to replace them. For example, in California, the 13 judges on McConnell’s hit list include:

  • Milan Smith, Jr., on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who sided with two “Obama judges” in the DOJ’s unsuccessful suit of California over its sanctuary laws.
  • Gary Klausner, on the District Court for the Central District of California, who handed Trump a legal defeat in the administration’s effort to rollback a gillnet ban that endangered sea turtles and whales.
  • Dale Fischer, on the District Court for the Central District of California, who ruled that Los Angeles must stop seizing and destroying homeless people’s possessions.
  • George Wu, on the District Court for the Central District of California, who struck down the Trump administration’s approval to build the Cadiz water pipeline through California deserts.

And McConnell’s actions reverberate beyond the federal judiciary. Recently, Georgia governor Brian Kemp demonstrated that he received the message to get conservatives seated on the courts when he canceled an impending election for voters to elect a state Supreme Court justice. Instead, Kemp declared his intention to appoint a successor when the current justice steps down in December 2020. This court-stacking means that Kemp’s nominee will serve as an appointed judge for at least two years before ever facing the voters in a fair election.

Senate Democrats, unfortunately, lack the numbers to block McConnell. So pro-democratic organizations are stepping into the fight. Demand Justice opposes extreme nominees and puts pressure on Democratic senators who vote for Trump’s judges by producing a report card of voting records. Since tracking began, Democratic senators have been far less likely to side with Republicans.

Ditch Mitch is a grassroots group allied against McConnell for his numerous instances of obstruction and hyperpartisanship. Kentucky voters disapprove of McConnell by overwhelming margins—48 percent to 27 percent, according to the latest Real Clear Politics average. To harness this rampant dislike of McConnell, Ditch Mitch is broadcasting his record to the voters throughout the state.

Instead of giving into despair, Democrats can and must use every tool at their disposal. If Democrats win big in 2020, they can use the power to expand the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court (because who really believes Trump-appointed justices are anything but partisan hacks?) and right Mitch McConnell’s many, many wrongs.

As activists, we need to:

  • Support the work of Demand Justice, a progressive judicial group fighting the confirmation of extreme judges and advocating for reform.
  • Call our Representatives and demand that they vote against all of Trump’s extreme judicial nominees.
  • Support Ditch Mitch and help Women Ditch Mitch with a postcard campaign aimed at Kentucky voters.
  • Not let this story die—keep tweeting, posting and blogging about McConnell & his de-democratization of the judicial system.

Sample Social Media Posts

Copy and paste the following into Twitter or Facebook, adding your own twists:

No Democrat should blue slip a single one of Trump’s extreme right-wing judicial nominees. No Democrat should help McConnell take over our judiciary. #DemCast @senatemajldr <tag your congressional reps>

What matters most to Mitch McConnell during the pandemic? Getting ABA-unqualified Justin Walker on the DC court of appeals. He even called the Senate back during the pandemic to work…on confirmation, not COVID relief. SLOW MITCH’S ROLL. #DemCast @senatemajldr <tag your congressional reps>

We need to hammer this home. Our judiciary is at stake. Do all you can to prevent our courts from being taken over by right-wing extremists. DON’T LET THIS STORY DIE. #DemCast @senatemajldr <tag your congressional reps>

Graphics to use in tweets and posts:

Articles to amplify:

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

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ACTIONSA serious campaign finance violation…or just an unbelievable deal on rent? Thanks

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