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On judicial ‘integrity,’ McConnell is clearly the wrong messenger

There’s regular ol’ hypocrisy and then there’s Mitch-McConnell-talks-about-the-integrity-of-the-Supreme-Court hypocrisy.


As the Senate prepares to consider Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination, Republicans have an unenviable task: They have to come up with some kind of rationale to vote against her.

With this in mind, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sat down with PBS’s Judy Woodruff last night, and the host asked, “What would be a compelling reason to deny her a seat on the court?” The Kentucky Republican’s answer was, to put it mildly, discouraging.

“One of the concerns that I have and many of us have is the integrity of the court itself. When I met with Judge Jackson, I tried to suggest to her in the nicest possible way that she might want to mirror the comments of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer in opposition to court-packing and to term limits for the Supreme Court.... She decided not to take a position on that. I wish she had. I don’t think that signals anything at all about how she might rule in a particular case, but simply the integrity of the court itself.”

The Senate GOP leader went on to concede that Jackson is “very intelligent” and “clearly qualified,” but he added again how “disappointing” it was to see the judge remain neutral on hypothetical judicial reforms.

Look, I realize that some degree of hypocrisy is unavoidable in politics, especially at the national level among officials who’ve been around for a while. But there’s regular ol’ hypocrisy and then there’s Mitch-McConnell-talks-about-the-integrity-of-the-Supreme-Court hypocrisy.

I’m mindful of the fact that we’ve covered this ground before, but in the larger political conversation, it often seems as if McConnell’s recent record has slipped down the memory hole. Last night on PBS, for example, Woodruff — a highly respected professional — did not break into laughter in response to the senator’s comments.

But she could have. Let’s circle back to our earlier coverage and review why the minority leader is such a poor messenger for this message.

It was in February 2016 when then-Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly. Then-President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a center-left, compromise jurist — who’d received praise from Senate Republicans — to fill the vacancy, which in turn opened the door to a historic opportunity to stop the high court’s drift to the right.

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.

It worked: McConnell effectively stole a Supreme Court seat from one administration and handed it to another. He’s repeatedly boasted about the pride he takes in having executed the transgressive scheme.

Nearly four years later, as Election Day 2020 approached, McConnell and his GOP brethren scrambled to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court — abandoning the principles Republicans pretended to care about four years earlier — even after millions of voters had already cast their 2020 ballots.

Adding insult to injury, McConnell said last year that he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of blocking possible Supreme Court nominees again if the Senate GOP has a majority after the 2022 midterm elections. More recently, the Republican even hung out with a sitting conservative justice at a political organization’s event and praised the justice’s work on a controversial issue pending before the Supreme Court.

But as of last night, the Senate minority emphasized his deep and sincere concern about “the integrity of the court itself.”

If McConnell wants his rhetoric to be taken seriously, he’ll have to do better than this.

Update: As a Supreme Court nominee in 2020, then-Judge Amy Coney Barrett's answer to the same question was effectively identical to Jackson's answer. There's no record of McConnell finding this objectionable at the time.