Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
June 14, 2021
Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told radio personality Hugh Hewitt that it is “highly unlikely” that he would permit President Biden to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court if the Republicans win control of the Senate in 2022.
While it seems certain that, if returned to his leadership role in the Senate, McConnell would block any Biden nominee, the fact he said it right now suggests that he is hoping to keep evangelical voters firmly in the Republican camp. In 2016, after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, McConnell refused even to hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. McConnell’s justification for this unprecedented obstruction was that Obama’s March nomination was too close to an election—a rule he ignored four years later when he rushed through Amy Barrett’s appointment to the Court in late October when voting in the upcoming election was already underway—and yet the underlying reason for the 2016 delay was at least in part his recognition that hopes of pushing the Supreme Court to the right, especially on the issue of abortion, were likely to push evangelical voters to the polls.
McConnell’s stance was at least in part directed to the changing nature of the judiciary under President Biden. Last week, the Senate confirmed the first Muslim American federal judge in U.S. history, a truly astonishing first since Muslims have been part of the U.S. since the earliest days of African enslavement in the early 1600s. By a vote of 81 to 16, the Senate confirmed Zahid Quraishi, the son of Pakistani immigrants and veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
More to the point, perhaps, for McConnell, is that the Senate today confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Jackson takes the place of Merrick Garland, who is now the attorney general. This post is generally seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Biden has suggested he would appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court, and Jackson is widely thought to be a top contender.
Aside from its implications for the Supreme Court, McConnell’s stand makes a mockery of Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) insistence on bipartisan support for legislation that protects voting rights. Manchin is demanding that bills protecting voting win bipartisan support because he says he fears that increasing partisanship will injure our democracy. McConnell’s flaunting of his manipulation of Senate rules to cement Republican control of our courts leaves Manchin twisting in the wind.
States, too, are passing voter suppression legislation along strictly partisan lines. The Brennan Center for Justice keeps tabs on voting legislation. It writes that “Republicans introduced and drove virtually all of the bills that impose new voting restrictions, and the harshest new laws were passed with almost exclusively Republican votes and signed into law by Republican governors.”
The Republican domination of the government over the past four years is on the table today as Democratic lawmakers try to get to the bottom of who authorized the FBI under former president Trump to spy on reporters, Democratic lawmakers and their families and staff members, and on White House Counsel Don McGahn and his wife. CNN chief congressional reporter Manu Raju tweeted that Adam Schiff (D-NY) who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, says after speaking with Garland that he still doesn’t know who started the investigation. “We discussed the need to really do a full scale review of what went on in the last four years, and make sure that steps are taken to re-establish the independence of the department,” he said.
While Attorney General Merrick Garland has referred the issue to the inspector general of the Justice Department, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler (D-NY), tonight announced the committee would open a formal investigation into the department’s secret seizure of data. “It is…possible that these cases are merely our first glimpse into a coordinated effort by the Trump Administration to target President Trump’s political opposition,” the committee members said in a statement. “If so, we must learn the full extent of this gross abuse of power, root out the individuals responsible, and hold those individuals accountable for their actions.”
In the midst of the uproar over the news that the Trump Department of Justice investigated Democratic lawmakers, the top national security official in the Justice Department, John Demers, a Trump appointee, has retired. Demers ran the department that had a say in each of the leak investigations.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, organized as a military alliance after WWII, met today. The heads of state of the 30 participating countries issued a communique reaffirming “our unity, solidarity, and cohesion,” and reiterating that, in case of attack, each nation would come to the aid of another. The members reiterated their commitment to a rules-based international order.
While the statement said NATO members remained open to a periodic, focused, and meaningful dialogue,” it singled out Russia as a threat and called for it to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova. It condemned Russia’s “illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.” It warned that NATO countries would, in certain circumstances, recognize a cyberattack as “amounting to an armed attack” and would treat it as such, rising to each other’s defense.
The statement was less strident against China, noting its “growing influence and international policies can present challenges.”
NATO leaders vowed to stand against terrorism and to continue to support Afghanistan despite the U.S. withdrawal. They reiterated that they did not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. In a reflection of the new era, the signatories’ statement called for addressing climate change. It also affirmed “the critical importance of women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in all aspects of peace and stability, as well as the disproportionate impact that conflict has on women and girls, including conflict-related sexual violence.”
Biden says he promises to prove “that democracy and that our Alliance can still prevail against the challenges of our time and deliver for the needs and the needs of our people.” With this strong statement of NATO solidarity in hand, Biden will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.