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Mitch McConnell Was Right About The Supreme Court

The American people did deserve the choice of deciding who should pick the next Supreme Court justice, writes Steve Almond. So who will Hillary nominate? Pictured: The Supreme Court is seen in the morning in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, after President Donald Trump announced Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee for the Supreme Court.  (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
The American people did deserve the choice of deciding who should pick the next Supreme Court justice, writes Steve Almond. So who will Hillary nominate? Pictured: The Supreme Court is seen in the morning in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, after President Donald Trump announced Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee for the Supreme Court. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
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COMMENTARY

On Feb. 12, 2016 — that’s a whole year ago next Friday! — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia went to bed at a ranch resort in Texas after a day of shooting quail, and never woke up. Within an hour of the confirmation of Scalia’s death, of natural causes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would not confirm any justice nominated by President Obama.

These events were both shocking. Nobody expected Scalia to die, obviously, and nobody expected that McConnell would publicly defy the Constitution of the United States, which he often makes a point of venerating and which, inconveniently, required him and his colleagues in the Senate to offer at least a vote on the sitting president’s nominee. No Senate leader had ever done this.

In fact, it’s worth remembering — as our current president makes it a daily habit to ignore the requirements and prohibitions of our founding document — that McConnell and his GOP minions have been at it for years.

If Democrats had the guts — and the moral audacity — to behave the way Republicans do, they’d be accused of treason on a nightly basis, with Fox News ready to distribute pitchforks to loyal Americans by sundown.

But no, this is the GOP, the party of Power Uber Alles. Which is why McConnell held firm in refusing to consider Obama’s nominee, even when it turned out to be a supremely qualified moderate.

In fact, back before everyone realized how powerful James Comey and Russian hackers and a policy-free Fourth Estate and voter suppression and “alternative facts” could be, a number of Senate Republicans openly talked about
blocking any court nominee put forward by Hillary Clinton.

Now, obviously, things have changed, and Senate Republicans are quite eager to have the president’s shiny new nominee, Neil Gorsuch, voted upon and confirmed.

So let’s take Mitch at his word. And let’s ask ourselves the obvious question: Who should Hillary Clinton nominate?

Still, before Senate conservatives twist that body’s legislative rules into pretzels to rush Gorsuch through, they should heed what their own leader has long said about this matter: Let the people decide.

That’s right, good old Mitch McConnell.

Back when people were asking him how he could deny Obama’s nominee a hearing, given that pesky old Constitution, McConnell had an answer ready:

“The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let's give them a voice,” he said. “Let's let the American people decide.”

And when Obama pointed out that the people already had decided, by electing him president, McConnell just repeated his sacred line.

What he obviously meant was that he wanted to wait until the election, so we would know for sure whether more Americans wanted Hillary Clinton to appoint the next Supreme Court justice, or her opponent.

Well, now we know: 65,853,516 Americans wanted Clinton to make that decision; 62,984,824 opted for the other guy.

That’s a margin of 2,864,974 Americans.

To put that into little perspective, that’s 2,864,874 more citizens than the number of citizens in the U.S. Senate.

It wasn’t even really that close. So let’s take Mitch at his word. And let’s ask ourselves the obvious question: Who should Hillary Clinton nominate?

The smart money would probably be on Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

As intended by the Constitution, the court would serve to rein in the powers of an executive branch unconcerned with ethics or the wishes of the majority.

But the exciting thing about what I guess I’ll have to call The McConnell Rule, is that it should apply until the next election. Which means Clinton might have as many as three nominees.

In which case she’d be able to nominate top-caliber judges such as Sri Srinivasan, an Indian-American, or Jacqueline Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American, or Paul Watford, an African-American.

But more important that ensuring the racial makeup of the court starts to better match that of the nation, a more progressive court will be crucial to reining in the authoritarian impulses of the Trump administration.

With the first liberal majority in 45 years, the court would protect the public from bigoted voter suppression laws, fueled by the president’s tireless and tiredly bogus claims of fraud.

The court would also ensure that the executive branch isn’t allowed to issue executive orders that require U.S. government employees to discriminate based on religion or ethnicity.

The court would no doubt overturn the widely hated Citizens United decision, which allowed corporate money to flood our political system. It would safeguard reproductive rights, marriage equality and environmental laws that are supported by a vast majority of Americans.

As intended by the Constitution, the court would serve to rein in the powers of an executive branch unconcerned with ethics or the wishes of the majority.

Let us thank the heavens, then, for levelheaded men of integrity like Mitch McConnell! History will reward him richly for his integrity in this matter, his courage in hailing the wisdom of the American people and honoring our popular will.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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