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On judicial nominees, Chuck Grassley's memory is a bit too short

Chuck Grassley believes Republicans have been "deferential about a Democrat president's ability" to pick judges. Reality suggests otherwise.
Chuck Grassley
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2021.Mandel Ngan / Pool via Reuters

After four years in which Senate Republicans were relentless in confirming Donald Trump's judicial nominees, Senate Democrats are now taking their first steps toward filling vacancies on the federal bench. To that end, the Judiciary Committee yesterday advanced the first slate of President Joe Biden's judicial nominees, including Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a likely future Supreme Court pick.

There was nothing especially remarkable about the process -- Democrats on the panel supported the nominees, most Republicans did not -- and there wasn't much in the way of debate yesterday, with one notable exception.

Ahead of the votes, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, claimed GOP senators have been "more deferential about a Democrat president's ability to pick his judges."

The Iowa Republican added, "There can't be one set of rules for Republicans and another for Democrats."

Grassley did not appear to be kidding.

And that's a shame because the senator's comments were almost hilarious in their inanity. Indeed, Grassley, who first took office 40 years ago, has been in the Senate long enough to know that he has this exactly backwards.

In 2013, for example, Grassley and his Republican colleagues -- in the minority at the time -- refused to consider any nominees for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, regardless of merit or qualification, because President Barack Obama was a Democrat. Far from being "deferential" about the then-president's "ability to pick his judges," Grassley and the GOP imposed an unprecedented blockade on a federal bench.

Three years later, after Justice Antonin Scalia's death, Obama chose Merrick Garland, a compromise nominee, for the Supreme Court. Instead of being "deferential" about the then-president's "ability to pick his judges," Grassley and Senate Republicans refused to even give the nominee the courtesy of a hearing.

GOP senators kept the vacancy open for 11 months -- another unprecedented example of maximalist partisan tactics -- with some going so far as to suggest they'd keep the seat empty for another four years if the Democratic ticket won the 2016 election.

All of this came against a backdrop in which the Senate Republican majority in 2015 and 2016 effectively ignored Obama's judicial nominees, indifferent to their qualifications.

Can't you just feel the Republican "deference"?

Four years later, GOP senators, including Grassley, conveniently abandoned everything they'd said in 2016, and adopted entirely new principles and standards in order to confirm one of Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominees -- eight days before Election Day 2020.

And yet, there was the Iowa Republican, earnestly declaring from his high horse yesterday, "There can't be one set of rules for Republicans and another for Democrats."

Heaven forbid, senator. Heaven forbid.

Two appellate-court nominees -- Ketanji Brown Jackson and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi -- advanced yesterday, along with three district-court nominees. Senate Democratic leaders will likely waste little time in confirming them.

Update: A reader reminded me this morning that Grassley's handling of blue slips further reinforces his hypocrisy surrounding judicial nominees.