In February of 2016, 10 months before the presidential election, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. In response, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would not be approving any of President Obama’s nominations because “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their new Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” Now, less than six weeks before the presidential election, McConnell said, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.” With this statement, McConnell exhibits hypocrisy, extreme partisanship, and shows that he simply does not care about justice.
In rejecting President Obama’s nomination in 2016, McConnell reasoned that it was not President Obama’s place to nominate at the time. He rightly said, “Presidents have a right to nominate, just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent,” and cited the “Biden Rule” as justification. In 1992, when there were no vacancies to fill on the Supreme Court, Joe Biden stated, “Once the political season is underway, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over.” Seeing how the race between Trump and Clinton in 2016 was a tight one, it makes sense why McConnell would want to wait until after the election because of the possibility of appointing a conservative-leaning nomination. While coherent, this decision stirred controversy because the election was still almost a year away, and because McConnell seemed to care about the partisanship and not about the actual appointee.
In a 2019 conversation at the Federalist Society Kentucky Chapters Conference, McConnell explained his rejection further, revealing another motivation: laziness. McConnell stated that he had just arrived in the Caribbean on vacation, and that he didn’t want to have to deal with “52 different opinions when we got back about how we were going to handle it.” He also stated that he was sure that “[President] Obama would name a well-qualified person, and he did,” implying that it truly was extreme partisanship that made his decision to reject it, not a devotion to what the constitution outlines. Yes, the Senate has the power to withhold consent of a nominee, but that should be because the nominee isn’t qualified, not because the nominator wasn’t from your political party.
This was not the only time McConnell acted destructively due to polarization. During President Trump’s impeachment trial in January of 2020, McConnell said that he was, “not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There’s not anything judicial about it,” when in fact, impeachment is one of the few judicial processes put to the Senate. McConnell did not care if President Trump had committed a crime or not; he believed that the Democrats had done this as a political move, not to promote justice.
In McConnell’s mind, the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg reaped a new political opportunity. It was a chance for President Trump to nominate a third Supreme Court Justice, swaying the bench to a 6-3 leaning. He cites the midterm election in 2018 as evidence that the people approve of a Republican-majority Senate and that they are warranted in voting on President Trump’s nomination. McConnell’s original statement of “letting the American people have a say in the new Justice,” if close to an election season is now thrown out the window. Instead, there is a firm and clear statement that the Senate will vote on President Trump’s nominee.
McConnell is not acting in terms of justice in this situation. His only goal is to promote the Republican Party, and if that furthers the divide and polarization we see in this country, so be it. He denies nominations before they are even made, and retrospectively agrees that they were qualified candidates, implying they should have been considered but weren’t because of partisan absurdities. He goes against every argument he made four years ago because it no longer serves his purpose, revealing that he never believed those things to begin with and simply did not want a Democrat appointing someone to the Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s last wish was to wait until after the election to appoint her successor so that the current president would not be involved. McConnell is dishonoring her memory for political gain, on a basis he vehemently fought against four years ago.