Over the summer, Ryan Bounds' nomination for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was on track to succeed, right up until Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the Senate's only African-American Republican, balked. The South Carolinian reviewed Bounds' history of racially provocative writings and decided he just couldn't vote to confirm him.
Last week, it happened again. Thomas Farr's nomination to serve as a district court judge was well on its way, until Scott objected, pointing to Farr's awful record on racially-specific voter-suppression tactics.
It's against this backdrop that the Republican senator wrote a letter to the editor to the Wall Street Journal, sending an unmistakable message to the newspaper's conservative editorial board -- and in the process, sending a related message to the White House.
I am saddened that in the editorial "Democrats and Racial Division" (Dec. 1) you attempt to deflect the concerns regarding Thomas Farr's nomination to the federal bench. While you are right that his nomination should be seen through a wider lens, the solution isn't simply to decry "racial attacks." Instead, we should stop bringing candidates with questionable track records on race before the full Senate for a vote. [...]We must not seek to sow the seeds of discord, but rather embrace the power of unity. Simply put, if the Senate votes on a candidate that doesn't move us in that direction, I will not support him or her. Our country deserves better.
To be sure, Tim Scott is by no means a moderate. As his letter noted, he's already voted to confirm more than 99% of Donald Trump's judicial nominees. But he's also drawing a line, saying that he won't just blindly follow his party when it comes to nominees with racially provocative pasts.
It's a welcome sentiment, though it raises a related question: why does it fall on Tim Scott's shoulders alone to raise this objection?
The GOP senator currently has 50 Republican colleagues, each of whom have access to the same information, and each of whom are being asked to confirm the same nominees. Why is it, exactly, that the conference's only black member has to be the one to call on his party to "stop bringing candidates with questionable track records on race before the full Senate for a vote"?
At best, the answer is that 50 of the 51 Senate Republicans are simply acting on partisan instinct, reluctant to say no to Trump, and not giving these votes a whole lot of thought. If the GOP president wants these nominees confirmed to lifetime positions on the federal bench, the argument goes, then it's incumbent on GOP senators to toe the line, and not look too closely at the nominees' records.
An alternative explanation is that 50 of the 51 Senate Republicans recognize that some of Trump's judicial nominees have "questionable track records on race," but that doesn't bother them, at least not enough to oppose the would-be judges.