Two weeks ago, Senate Republicans, many of whom vowed never to filibuster a judicial nominee, blocked Patricia Millett's nomination to serve on the D.C. Circuit appeals bench. Republicans refused to allow the Senate vote, not because they objected to Millett on the merits, but because the GOP believes the vacancies on the D.C. Circuit must remain vacant until there's a Republican president again.
It is, for the record, a level of obstruction never before seen in the United States.
Senate Democrats are poised to try again, bringing Nina Pillard's D.C. Circuit nomination to the floor, perhaps as early as this evening. If Republicans filibuster her, too, the Senate majority believes it will probably have no choice but to execute the so-called "nuclear option," and restore majority rule on judicial nominees.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has a message for Senate Democrats: "Go ahead."
"Many of those on the other side who are clamoring for rules change and almost falling over themselves to do it have never served a single day in the minority," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said Tuesday in a floor speech. "All I can say is this -- be careful what you wish for." "So if the Democrats are bent on changing the rules, then I say go ahead," he said. "There are a lot more Scalias and [Clarence] Thomases that we'd love to put on the bench. The nominees we'd nominate and put on the bench with 51 votes would interpret the constitution as it was written."
For context, it's worth noting that very few senators have been confused by the basics of this debate more than Grassley. The Iowa Republican keeps talking about "court packing" in ways that suggest he has no idea what the phrase means -- even after it's been explained to him -- and he's also asserted "a blanket right to blockade judicial nominees" because he disapproves of who voters elected to be president.
Given this, listening to the GOP senator struggle to engage in this debate coherently has become difficult. But today's gem from Grassley is especially amazing.
If Democrats follow through on the "nuclear option," Grassley warns, then Republicans will confirm more Scalias and Thomases by majority rule. But here's the thing: Scalia and Thomas were already approved by majority rule. So were Alito and Roberts. So, too, were right-wing nominees who should have been blocked but weren't, including Owen and Brown.
In other words, Grassley's warning Democrats of something that's already occurred, and will continue to reoccur if Republicans figure out how to win a presidential election again.
The senator is effectively saying, "Watch out, or we'll have up-or-down votes on far-right judicial nominees," perhaps unaware of the fact that up-or-down votes on far-right judicial nominees have already happened, and will continue to happen, whether Democrats pursue the "nuclear option" or not.
Does Grassley not understand the nature of his threat?
The Republican's confusion notwithstanding, there's another crisis brewing. GOP senators are making the case that they can prevent the Senate from voting, indefinitely, to fill federal court vacancies, regardless of the nominee's qualifications, because Democrats won a presidential election. There is no precedent in the American tradition for such obstructionism, and if it continues, it's hard to imagine how Senate Dems allow it to continue.