Because the U.S. hasn’t had enough chaos so far in 2020, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday.
That set off a wave of ignorance about the Supreme Court and its nominating process specifically and about how the federal government works generally.
Ilya Shapiro starts with some history:
The big question looming over Mitch McConnell’s promise to hold a vote on Donald Trump’s nominee to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is whether the Democrats, should they win both the White House and Senate, will then add (and fill) more seats to the Supreme Court.
Although Joe Biden declined to join most of his fellow candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in endorsing court-packing, the political pressure to do so may be too much to resist come January.
“I think the Kavanaugh nomination has put a fire under progressives,” said Caroline Fredrickson, then-president of the American Constitution Society (lefty counterpart to the Federalist Society) at the beginning of the primaries, noting that it’s “not written in stone that the court has nine seats.”
Indeed, the Constitution doesn’t specify the number of justices, but each expansion was historically accompanied by political mischief.
The Judiciary Act of 1789 set out six, but then the 1801 Midnight Judges Act would’ve reduced the Court to five at its next vacancy, to thwart the incoming president, Thomas Jefferson. In 1802, Congress restored the Court to six, a move Justice Samuel Chase opposed, which led to his impeachment (but not removal).
As the country grew, Congress created new circuits, with new justices appointed to each one. That all seems innocuous, but there were also political reasons for adding them, ones that didn’t always inure to the nation’s benefit.
A seventh seat was added in 1807, in part because Jefferson wanted to temper Chief Justice John Marshall’s Federalist proclivities, an unsuccessful maneuver given Marshall’s skill at swaying new colleagues. The eighth and ninth seats added in 1837 allowed a Jacksonian reshaping with the new justices supporting Chief Justice Roger Taney’s authorship of Dred Scott. Then a 10th seat was added in 1863, in part to allow Abraham Lincoln more leeway.
That tenth seat was never filled and, to prevent Andrew Johnson from naming anyone — and at the request of Chief Justice Salmon Chase, who presided over Johnson’s impeachment trial — Congress in 1866 cut the Court to seven, such that the next three departing justices wouldn’t be replaced.
In 1869, however, after two seats had been lost to that attrition, the Circuit Judges Act fixed the bench at nine, a number that has survived 150 years, allowing the Court to get the stability and prestige it never had previously.
The most famous example of attempted court-packing is, of course, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937. The president was fresh off a massive reelection—he won 523-8 in the Electoral College—and unhappy about a series of rulings against his New Deal programs. He proposed adding a new justice for every sitting justice older than 70½, up to a maximum bench of 15.
The plan met bipartisan resistance in Congress and faced public opposition by the justices — including progressive icon Louis Brandeis — and FDR’s own vice president. It led to huge Democratic losses in the 1938 election, with Republicans gaining 81 seats in the House and eight in the Senate.
Still, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said over the weekend that “nothing is off the table” if Republicans fill the Supreme Court vacancy before Inauguration Day. But if Democrats think they’d be reuniting the country by compensating for Republican-appointed justices they consider to be illegitimate, then they deserve the political losses that such ends-justify-the-means radicalism has historically caused.
And if they think that packing the Court would restore “norms,” then they really don’t understand the nature of governance. Just as two wrongs don’t make a right, you don’t restore norms by transforming institutions, particularly when doing so would mean eliminating the legislative filibuster, which would open an even bigger can of worms.
Maybe some deal could be worked out whereby, if the nominee isn’t confirmed before the election and Democrats win big, Republicans would promise not to confirm if Democrats promised not to add justices. Otherwise, to quote Bernie Sanders of all people, “My worry is that the next time the Republicans are in power they will do the same thing.”
In the end, the Democrats ought to draw a different lesson from FDR. By mid-1941, just four years after court-packing failed, only two justices remained whom Roosevelt hadn’t appointed—and one of those, Harlan Stone, he had elevated to chief justice.
In a very real sense, then, FDR packed the Court the old-fashioned way, by maintaining control of the White House and Senate and waiting for natural attrition. Joe Biden, take note.
In 2016, during the Merrick Garland fight, Joe Biden said, “I would go forward with the confirmation process. Even a few months before a presidential election… just as the Constitution requires.”
Joe Biden in 2020 rejects Joe Biden from 2016.
The Democrats reject their 2016 positions.
You Democrats may not like it, but McConnell in 2016 was very consistent that a party controlling the Senate different from the President has no reason to consider a pick. In fact, contrary to the bellyaching of the media and Democrats, the Senate is never under any obligation to act on a presidential nomination. It is a separate branch of government.
But that did not stop Democrats, including Joe Biden and Barack Obama, from insisting as much in 2016.
Maybe if the Democrats didn’t want Donald Trump to advance a nominee, they should not have tried to do so after Antonin Scalia’s death. President Trump now is just following Barack Obama’s precedent.
Likewise, Democrat threats to pack the Supreme Court and end the filibuster if someone is confirmed to replace Ginsburg ring hollow. They were already threatening both before a vacancy opened. It’s like Colin Kaepernick redefining why he took a knee. At first, it was in protest against the country. Only after outrage did it become about police brutality. The media helpfully ignored the original excuse-making just as the media is doing now with the Democrats.
Nonetheless, the GOP might as well advance a nomination and vote on it.
No honest person can deny if the Democrats controlled the Senate and White House that they’d decline. In fact, they absolutely would try to fill the seat and there is no reason for the GOP to abstain.
One can credibly make the argument that if the GOP does do it that it will escalate tensions in the United States and lead to more violence. I actually believe that is true. But I also believe to sit it out because of that is to give a win to terrorists.
Ronald Reagan said we should never negotiate with terrorists. We should not sit by for fear of the left burning down the country. They already are. The behavior needs to be repudiated.
I would recommend the President find a Hispanic nominee so the country can see the Democrats racistly savage and assassinate the character of a someone of Hispanic ethnicity. They won’t be able to help themselves and Hispanic voters can see why they might want to vote for Donald Trump.
The GOP holds the White House and the Senate. If they are not going to act, their base is going to wonder what the point is. They really have no choice and Democrat insistence on a nominations process in 2016 gives them wiggle room.
Use the Obama precedent and proceed. The media is never going to treat the matter fairly so damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. All the threats by Democrats are threats they were making while Ginsburg was still alive. There’s no reason for restraint when the Democrats were already calling for unrestraint in their own governance.
Submit a nominee and confirm that person. If the Democrats pack the Court, add more seats with a Republican majority. If they scrap the filibuster, the GOP will have no reason to be restrained in scuttling Democrat pet projects in the future. The repeal of Lilly Ledbetter, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, etc. becomes more likely in the next decade and that’s not a bad thing.
It’s a little amazing how few conservatives have pointed out the obvious about Garland — he was a horrible choice.
I myself would like to see U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane Sykes, if for no other reason (other than that she is eminently qualified) than the identity of her ex-husband — Charlie Sykes, vehement critic of the president who would appoint her.