On March 16 of last year, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. But over the next couple of months, Garland faced adamant opposition from the Senate Republicans, who refused even to hold a committee hearing for him.
As Democrats, including Obama, strongly criticized the Republicans for this action, I criticized along with them. Ideological differences aside, I could find no reason for Republican senators to block Garland’s appointment. He seemed to be qualified for the job, and I thought it likely that as a justice, he would refrain from ruling on the basis of political preference. It seemed to me the Republicans in the Senate were being immature about the entire thing. Blocking Garland’s confirmation not only put a strain on our judicial system, but would have left the door open for Hillary Clinton – had she been elected – to nominate someone even further to the left.
Fast-forward to last week, when the Senate Republicans – led by Mitch McConnell – decided to execute the “nuclear option.” In doing so, they effectively guaranteed the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch by disallowing filibusters against Supreme Court nominees.
The Republican decision to take the nuclear option came in response to Senate Democrats, who were preventing Gorsuch’s confirmation by blocking a vote on it. It dawned on me that these Democrats were now doing basically the same thing that the Republicans had done to Garland. They were now engaged in the “anti-democratic” action they had publicly criticized just months before. The saddest part is that these Democrats have yet to provide a sound rationale for their behavior. It appears as if they attempted to block Gorsuch because they wanted to match the move the Republicans made last year. Although the Senate Democrats, among others, disagree with some of Gorsuch’s views and opinions, that doesn’t make him an illegitimate or unqualified nominee for the Supreme Court.
The truth is that the country took a turn in the last election. A much more conservative president was elected, and the Republicans maintained control of Congress with only minimal losses. As much as the Democrats dislike this, it is the result of the democratic process. I have the same reaction as many when I hear President Trump make a remark that is far from presidential, or see that Congress has taken action towards a strong conservative agenda that I may not agree with. But I accept it. I read it, nod, and acknowledge that I am still grateful to live in a country like our own.
Perhaps Congress and the White House do not share my views, but they do share the views of those who voted them in. Democrats and Republicans alike – although Democrats seem to be the ones doing it these days – should not simply halt vital governing processes, or manipulatively frustrate them, just because they disagree on ideological grounds.
If the Democrats, after pointing out that Senate Republicans’ blocking of Garland a year ago was against the spirit of the constitution, had then done their jobs and voted for or against Gorsuch – in the spirit of the constitution – a week ago, they would not have looked nearly as hypocritical.