It was nearly six years ago when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly. President Barack Obama soon after nominated Judge Merrick Garland, a center-left, compromise jurist — who'd received praise from Senate Republicans — to fill the vacancy.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell instead decided to impose an unprecedented high-court blockade for nearly a year, hoping that Americans might elect a Republican president and Republican Congress despite the GOP's abusive tactics.
That plan worked: McConnell effectively stole a Supreme Court seat from one administration and handed it to another.
For now, the political dynamic is different — Democrats control both the White House and the Senate, which wasn't the case in 2016 — but Republicans believe there's a strong likelihood that the GOP will soon reclaim the Senate majority, at which point they'll be ready to impose another Supreme Court blockade. CNN reported:
Senate Republicans are poised to deny President Joe Biden an appointment to the Supreme Court if they take the majority in the 2022 midterm elections. Five Republican senators raised the stakes around Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement, telling CNN they'd oppose any likely nominee out of this White House.
The use of the word "any" is of particular interest: It doesn't matter who Biden were to nominate in the event of a Supreme Court vacancy. It doesn't matter if the nominee is qualified. It doesn't matter if the nominee has a sterling record. It doesn't matter if the nominee has earned an extraordinary reputation and is universally respected by his or her professional colleagues.
If a Democratic president nominates someone for the high court, a GOP-led Senate is likely to prioritize partisanship, not merit.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley — the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and currently its ranking member — went so far as to manufacture a rule that does not exist.
"You know what the rule is on that," the Iowan told CNN. "You go back to 1886 and ever since then, when the Senate's been of one party and the president's been of another party, you didn't confirm."
As Grassley really ought to know, this is spectacularly untrue.
During Dwight Eisenhower's presidency, for example, the Democratic-led Senate confirmed several Supreme Court justices nominated by the Republican White House. Democratic Senates also confirmed Richard Nixon's justices and Gerald Ford's Supreme Court nominee.
Years later, a Democratic-led Senate confirmed two of Ronald Reagan's high court picks. Soon after, a Democratic-led Senate confirmed both of George H.W. Bush's Supreme Court nominees.
Indeed, let's not lose sight of the timeline: Grassley was elected to the Senate in 1980. The Iowa Republican believes that in every instance since 1886, the Senate led by one party refused to confirm Supreme Court nominees when the White House was held by the opposite party. But Grassley also knows this isn't true — not because he's a student of history, but because the made-up "rule" didn't apply several times during his own tenure on Capitol Hill.
The problem, of course, is not just Grassley's willingness to peddle absurd excuses for maximalist partisan tactics. It's also the message this should be sending to Justice Stephen Breyer.
Circling back to our earlier coverage, the 83-year-old center-left justice has resisted calls for his retirement, suggesting that he's so indifferent toward political considerations that Biden's presidency will have no bearing on when he departs from the high court.
But if Breyer assumes that a Republican-led Senate would gladly confirm a Biden nominee for the Supreme Court, GOP senators keep telling him otherwise.
Breyer can bury his head in the sand, but the more responsible course would be to take Republicans' rhetoric seriously, while prioritizing his legacy and our collective future.