Asked this week about his party’s difficulties in governing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, “We have a new Supreme Court justice,”
The point wasn’t subtle: the Republicans may be struggling to advance their legislative agenda, but the party is nevertheless moving the federal judiciary to the right. And while this may seem like an argument intended to rationalize failure, McConnell’s argument isn’t wrong.
Yesterday, for example, Senate Republicans voted unanimously to confirm John Bush, a Donald Trump nominee to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. And who’s John Bush? Let’s revisit a recent piece from Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick:
Blogging under a pseudonym, the Kentucky lawyer wrote more than 400 posts for the website Elephants in the Bluegrass. His wide-ranging and unfiltered commentary has included, for instance, the claim that abortion and slavery are “[t]he two greatest tragedies in our country.” His blog posts have cited conspiracy theories and false information, including references to the claim that President Obama was not born in the United States.
In his Senate questionnaire, he described the vicious 1991 beating of Rodney King as a “police encounter.” As Eleanor Clift notes in the Daily Beast, he has also gone on record arguing that the Supreme Court made a bad ruling in the landmark freedom of the press case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. In the Trump era, that’s a feature, not a bug.
During Bush’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Bush to explain why he relied on radical and fringe websites like World Net Daily as legitimate sources for information. Bush said that “as a blogger I was finding things in the news that were of note.”
World Net Daily, for those unfamiliar with it, is known for peddling ridiculous conspiracy theories, including championing the ant-Obama “birther” cause for many years. The fact that Bush saw WND as credible raises serious questions about his judgment.
And yet, thanks to Senate Republicans, he’ll now bring that judgment to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
As we discussed in June, Trump and congressional Republicans will be in a position to advance their agenda while in power, but in many areas, changes made now can be changed back in the future. Health care benefits can be restored; alliances can be rebuilt, etc.
The federal courts, however, are different because federal jurists serve lifetime appointments. In other words, we’ll be dealing with the consequences of Trump’s – and his party’s – eagerness to move the court sharply to the right for decades to come. And as long as Senate Republicans vote in lock-step, there’s not a whole lot Democrats can do about it.