“The judge story is an untold story; nobody wants to talk about it,” Donald Trump recently said alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “But when you think about it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge – but 40 years out.”
The “judge story” refers to the Republican campaign to approve as many far-right jurists to lifetime positions on the federal bench as they can, as quickly as they can hold votes. On this, the president happens to be correct: the public probably doesn’t appreciate the fact that the GOP is shifting the judiciary in a radical direction, which has the potential to shape the American landscape for several decades.
And since filibusters are no longer an option on judicial nominees, there are limited tools at Democrats’ disposal to prevent this from happening.
But Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), arguably the most vulnerable Republican seeking re-election next year, argued yesterday that his party should move even faster to confirm Trump’s nominees, working “day and night” to approve judges “every day, for as long as we need.”
“Now many of you here know that the first piece of legislation I’ve introduced for the past two Congresses is my No Budget No Pay Act. The concept is simple, if Congress can’t pass a budget and all of its spending bills on time then it shouldn’t be paid.
“Well, Mr. President, the Senate should apply the same concept, in my opinion, to confirming judges.”
So, from the Nevada Republican’s perspective, lawmakers’ salaries should be conditioned on their ability to vote on judicial nominees.
That’s probably not a realistic pitch, but it got me thinking: where was Dean Heller a year ago?
Nearly all of the vacancies on the federal bench also existed at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, and if memory serves, Heller and his Republican brethren refused to hold confirmation votes on almost all of them last year. Indeed, the Democratic president nominated Merrick Garland for the U.S. Supreme Court – a compromise choice who’d earned GOP praise – and Republican senators wouldn’t even give him a fair hearing.
I’ve looked for Dean Heller’s speech from last year in which he suggested senators go without pay for failing to do their jobs, but I can’t seem to find it.
Indeed, twisting the knife, the Nevadan boasted yesterday, “One of the eight judges confirmed was Neil Gorsuch, who I am thankful now serves on the Supreme Court. Justice Gorsuch is an example of the type of judge we have the chance to put in place. Like with Justice Gorsuch’s confirmation, we need to do all that is necessary to fill these vacancies with great judges like him.”
The chutzpah is almost impressive. Heller delivered a speech on the importance of senators voting on judicial nominees, then bragged about Neil Gorsuch, who’s only on the bench because senators refused to vote on a judicial nominee.
Nevertheless, Heller and his fellow partisans are likely to get what they want. Politico reported late yesterday, “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is launching a circuit court confirmation blitz. The top Senate Republican on Thursday teed up votes to install four nominees to the powerful appellate courts, which give the final word on the vast majority of cases that don’t reach the Supreme Court.”