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Can the Democrats stop Trump’s Nominee to the Supreme Court?

Reprinted with Permission from Haiti-Observateur

By: Emmanuel Roy

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R, Ky., said that he will move ahead with the confirmation process of a Supreme Court nominee less than 41 days before the presidential election. He shrugged off criticism that his actions were  hypocritical.  In 2016, the same Senator McConnell refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee judge Merrick Garland for a court vacancy nine (9) months before the presidential election, insisting that voters should have a say. Now, in a politically advantageous position, McConnell has changed his tune, pushing aside any noble principle. Thus, the question, Can the Democrats derail the nomination until after November 3?

The reality is the Democrats have no clear path to blocking President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. They must rely on principled Republicans to block the nomination. So far only two such Republicans have said that the confirmation of the nominee should take place after the presidential election. To block the nominee Democrats would need at least four Republicans to stand with them. 

The two Senate Republicans who said the nomination should wait until after the election are Susan Collins of Maine, who faces a difficult reelection battle in a Democratic-leaning state; and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who publicly broke with President Trump after his actions during this summer’s protests against racial injustice.

Democrats were hoping that Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the lone Republican who voted to convict Trump in the impeachment trial, would join them, but early Tuesday morning (September 22), in a press statement, Romney said he will not oppose a Senate vote on Trump’s nominee  and that he intends to follow the constitution, if a nominee reaches the floor of the Senate “I intend to vote based on their qualifications,” Romney said, thereby foreclosing any opportunity the Democrats may have had to slow down the process.

With Romney lined up behind McConnell, Democrats only have one option: a public pressure campaign. Even that will not to be easy. First, Democrats must mount a public pressure campaign using outside interest groups to target vulnerable Republicans, asking them to at least agree to a post-presidential election confirmation. A difficult undertaking, considering that well-funded Republican groups are ready to counterattack. The political process leaves Democrats zero room for error. Everything must be executed flawlessly.

The only person in the Senate who can move the process forward or retards it is McConnell, and it is very unlikely that four Republicans will band together to stop him.  This is a rare opportunity for the Republicans to take control of the Supreme Court for decades to come. And Republican interest groups will make sure that vulnerable Republicans fall in line behind McConnell. 

Senator Chuck Schumer, D, N.Y., the Senate minority leader, recognizes their limited political leverage. In a floor speech on Monday, September 21, he sought to shame his GOP colleagues by holding up their previous words about election-year Supreme Court nominations, to suggest they were being insincere and brazenly hypocritical.  Confirming a replacement, Schumer argued, could upend the Senate entirely, spelling “the end of this supposedly great deliberative body.”

“If a Senate majority over the course of six years steals two Supreme Court seats using completely contradictory rationales, how could we expect to trust the other side again,” he asked. “How can we trust each other if, when push comes to shove, when the stakes are the highest, the other side will double-cross their own standards when it’s politically advantageous?”

Liberal groups already started their pressure campaign on Monday, with a predawn protest outside the Washington DC home of Senator Lindsey Graham, R, S.C., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In 2016, Graham is shown speaking, pledging to never consider a Supreme Court nominee during a presidential election year. Now with the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, providing the Republicans a golden opportunity to take control of the high court for years, Senator Graham has disavowed his own pledge. Political expediency trumps the most noble principles.  

“Demand Justice,” a group founded by former Schumer staffer Brian Fallon, pledged $10 million to fight the nomination. Already they’re talking with Senate Democrats about strategy and messaging. The president of “People for the American Way,” Ben Jealous, said his group is preparing ads and organizing ground-game pressure campaigns targeting GOP senators. They are targeting Republicans facing reelection, such as Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Lindsey Graham, and others they think could be compelled to vote differently should enough of their constituents were to balk.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the “Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights,” a coalition of 220 liberal groups, said their coalition also would be running ads and organizing in states where vulnerable Republicans are on the ballot in November. That, she argued, was the Democrats’ “main lever” for stopping confirmation: pressuring those most likely to lose.

In addition to the public pressure campaign, some Democrats have gone as far as to suggest an impeachment of Attorney General William Barr. On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D, N.Y., said the party should leave open the possibility of impeaching Attorney General William Barr, hoping it would force a trial in the Senate that would prevent the confirmation until at least after the Nov. 3 elections. “These are procedures and decisions that are largely up to House Democratic leadership,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters. “But I believe that, also, we must consider, again, all of the tools available at our disposal and that all of these options should be entertained and on the table.”  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D, Calif., would not rule out that possibility, when asked about it Sunday. 

So much is at stake for Americans: health care, women’s access to abortion, reproductive rights, racial justice, voting rights, gay rights, employment discrimination and more. Six conservative judges can turn back the clock on all the gains that have been made in the last 100 years. But based on the facts, there is little that Democrats can do procedurally to stop Trump. 

Elections have consequences and this is one of the consequences. Mobilizing American voters to appeal to the moral conscience of Republicans looks like a losing proposition because conservative interest groups are hard at work planning their offensive. Pro-Republican “Judicial Crisis Network” announced a $2.2 million ad campaign to support whoever the nominee is, ensuring a clash of TV commercials and digital ads across the nation.  Democrats may end up losing that Supreme Court seat, a political lesson worth learning, especially by those who say, “my vote doesn’t count.” 



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