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Senator Lindsey Graham gives remarks during confirmation hearings for Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson at the Capitol, on Monday.
Senator Lindsey Graham gives remarks during confirmation hearings for Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson at the Capitol, on Monday.Graeme Sloan / Sipa USA via AP

In the fight over the courts, Republicans pretend to be victims

In the political fight over the judiciary, Senate Republicans have finally identified the real victims: themselves.


As Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Senate confirmation hearings were poised to begin, it was difficult to know exactly what to expect from the Judiciary Committee’s Republicans. Would they try to tear her down? If so, what would they focus on? Would they complain about the process? Would they take a more low-key approach realizing she’s likely to be confirmed whether the GOP minority likes it or not?

It quickly became apparent that the panel’s Republican members had settled on a different kind of approach: They wanted to talk, at great length, about their sense of victimhood. NBC News noted that the first day of hearings quickly became “a venting session” for GOP senators.

The trauma over past Supreme Court battles runs deep — and Republicans didn’t hide it. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the top Republican on the committee, began his party’s remarks at the hearing by reminding of previous confirmations when the audience interrupted him.... He and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., vented about Democrats’ treatment of then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Graham dug back about 20 years to complain about Democrats’ treatment of President George W. Bush’s appellate nominees Janice Rogers Brown, a Black woman who was ultimately confirmed, and Miguel Estrada, a Hispanic man who was filibustered.

One by one, Republicans whined about the Kavanaugh hearings. And Robert Bork’s 1987 nomination. And Clarence Thomas' 1991 nomination. And Janice Rogers Brown’s 2005 nomination. And Miguel Estrada’s 2003 nomination.

What did any of this have to do with Judge Jackson? Literally nothing. Her presence — indeed, her nomination — seemed largely irrelevant to the committee’s Republican members.

They had spotlights and microphones, and by golly, they wanted everyone to know just how sorry they felt for themselves. Those rascally Democrats have been big meanies for many years, or so we were told, and Jackson’s confirmation hearings provided a convenient platform for GOP senators to flaunt their sense of grievance.

There was, however, a relevant detail that went largely ignored. As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes noted, “Conservatives love nothing more than to be both victor and victim.”

Quite right. There’s been a multi-year political fight over the direction of the federal judiciary, and it’s led to a political dynamic that’s genuinely ridiculous: The partisans who won the fight are the same partisans whining the loudest now.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but to hear Republicans complain for hours on end was a ridiculous display given their many successes. GOP senators tried to shut down the confirmation process during much of Barack Obama’s presidency, and they successfully shut it down during the Democrat’s final two years in office.

They stole a Supreme Court seat in 2016. They threatened to leave a vacancy unfilled for at least four years — if not longer. They exercised the “nuclear option” to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch. They ignored evidence, popular will, and propriety to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh. They rejected their own purported principles to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the midst of a presidential election.

They spent Donald Trump’s term ignoring governing and investing an inordinate amount of time into confirming highly dubious conservatives with thin records, some of whom had barely seen the inside of a courtroom.

These guys shouldn’t be whining incessantly; they should be celebrating their victory. There’s a 6-3 far-right majority on the Supreme Court, creating the most conservative high court in nearly a century, and the result is likely to help shape American public life for the next several decades.

They are not traumatized. They have nothing about which to "vent." For Senate Republicans to see themselves as victims is to strip reality of any meaning.