A Stolen Seat; A System Betrayed
By Rebekah Chodoff Kuschmider
So, I’ve been stewing since Sunday night. For those of you who tuned in to The More Perfect Union “After Dark” episode that was released this week, you were treated to a heated and emotional discussion between myself, Kevin, and Helena about the state of the Supreme Court nominating process. It was in the middle of that discussion when I realized how deep my feelings of anger and betrayal actually are regarding the nomination and subsequent treatment of Merrick Garland last year.
I want to talk more about this without the risk of yelling at my podcast compatriots and making this about their opinions. Because it’s not about them. It’s not even about Merrick Garland or Neil Gorsuch. I will say at the outset that both Garland and Gorsuch are qualified, respected jurists and deserve nomination to court, though my personal partisan bias makes me prefer one to the other.
But this story is not about them. It’s about Barack Obama, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump.
And it’s about me and the rest of the American electorate. Because no matter who you voted for in the past two presidential elections, your trust in our system of government has been betrayed.
In in 2008 and 2012, the American people elected Barack Obama with a majority of both the popular vote and the electoral college. He took office with no asterisk beside his name. He was a two-time duly elected President of the United States, and he assumed all the rights and responsibilities that came with the office. In his years as leader, he served honorably. While his presidency was not without error, it was without personal scandal. His decisions might have been questionable but his integrity was not. Barack Hussein Obama, community activist, professor, and elected official was a lifetime public servant and he served to the best of his abilities.
In 2016, Mitch McConnell looked the American people and the President they chose in the eye and told them that none of that mattered anymore. Mitch McConnell made the arrogant and unpatriotic decision to rescind the right of the President of the United States to appoint justices to the Supreme Court because it was an election year.
Helena and DJ tried to defend that choice by saying it fit with a precedent set by Joe Biden in 1992. However – and this is a BIG however – when Biden made his statement about deferring appointments until after an election, he was speaking hypothetically. There was no vacancy on the court that at that time. He was talking about what might happen if a Justice decided to retire so he could choose the President who chose his successor. It was a warning to the Justices to make their retirement plans so as to avoid politicizing the nomination process in an election year.
It was not a discussion of how to proceed after the death of a Justice, a situation that is beyond the control of the President, the Senate, and the Justice himself. I’m sure Antonin Scalia had no intention of dying during the strangest election season in modern memory but die he did. And by the rules set forth in the US Constitution, President Obama had every right to nominate a replacement. Moreover, the Senate had a responsibility to confirm that replacement. But in an act of craven politcking, Senator McConnell denied President Obama that right and betrayed the trust of the American people who elected President Obama.
What McConnell did was to manipulated a 25 year old speech to serve his own interests, placing himself the President and the people. He was in effect telling the American people that the President’s judgement didn’t matter, our judgement in electing the President didn’t matter, and that he is, in fact, the gatekeeper of our judicial system. It was an unforgivably partisan act.
So here we sit, over a year after the death of Justice Scalia, with a seat on the Court empty. Which brings us the the tale of another president.
In 2016, Donald Trump was elected to the presidency despite 52% of the American electorate casting an affirmative vote against him. He won the electoral college and assumed office under a cloud of unpopularity and distrust that has not dissipated. His conflicts of interest are evident to even the most causal observer, as he remains tied to his international corporation, even as he makes policies that affect businesses. His relationship to the truth is tenuous at best. And his election campaign, several of his advisers, and possibly he himself are under investigation by federal law enforcement authorities for acts of corruption and possibly criminal activity.
Mitch McConnell this week has promised that this President’s nominee to the Supreme Court will have a confirmation vote by April 7. Evidently, Mitch McConnell feels that a nakedly corrupt Republican is better at picking justices than a fundamentally honest Democrat.
I am angry as hell at McConnell for what he has done to the American people. When he stole Barack Obama’s right to appoint a Justice to the Supreme Court, he stole the voters’ right to have our will done by the leaders we choose. I cannot change the situation we’re in but I don’t have to sit quietly and accept what happened as if it were politics as usual. History will bear out my position that Mitch McConnell committed a great wrong against President Obama, against Judge Garland, and against every voter in this nation of ours.
I do not forgive him and I will never forget what he did.
Rebekah Chodoff Kuschmider holds a masters degree in cultural policy studies and has done federal advocacy work for a non-profit. She is a co-host of The More Perfect Union podcast and a blogger at StayAtHomePundit.com.
One comment on “A Stolen Seat; A System Betrayed”
Regarding Biden’s 1992 speech, you make a good point the speech being a warning to any potential retiree justices about the limits on any replacements, there are a few more points to make about the difference between what Biden’s speech considered and what McConnell did.
As your politifact link points out, Biden suggested a delay until after the election, not until the successor president took office.
Biden just explained his right to block any nominee he did not find suitable. Biden explained past examples he did not want to repeat. Biden went ahead and said he was willing to support any actual, demonstrated moderate nominees.
Biden said “But I believe that so long as the public continues to split it’s confidence between the branches, compromise is the responsible course both for the White House and the Senate. Therefore I stand by my position, Mr. President. If the President [George H.W. Bush] consults and cooperates with the Senate or moderates his selections absent consultation, then his nominees may enjoy my support as did Justices Kennedy and Souter. But if he does not, as is the President’s right, then I will oppose his future nominees as is my right.”
Watch it for yourself:
It takes place 56.5 minutes into Biden’s full speech:
Biden clearly said he would support moderate nominees. He said he would oppose nominees that were not moderate. At no point did he suggest ignoring a nominee like McConnell did.