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Why Mitch McConnell's celebration of Clarence Thomas matters

Amy Coney Barrett recently said she doesn't want people to see justices as "partisan hacks." I hope she saw Clarence Thomas' Heritage Foundation event.


A national Grinnel College/Selzer poll released this week found nearly two-thirds of Americans agree that politics drives Supreme Court rulings. In fact, it was a rare area of bipartisan agreement: Democrats, Republicans, and independents all answered the same question in roughly the same way.

"This is a nightmare scenario for Chief Justice John Roberts, who has sought to protect the court's reputation as an apolitical institution," Grinnell College National Poll Director Peter Hanson said. "The court faces a public convinced that its decisions are about politics rather than the Constitution."

A recent Gallup poll also showed public attitudes toward the high court sliding to the lowest level since the pollster started asking the question a couple of decades ago.

It was against this backdrop that the Heritage Foundation hosted a notable event last night. The Washington Post reported:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lauded Justice Clarence Thomas on Thursday night as a "legal titan" whose independence and courage are illustrated through his "jurisprudence on unborn life."

At face value, it's difficult to defend these circumstances. A conservative political group hosted an event for a conservative Supreme Court justice, who was in attendance for the celebration of himself. Congress' most powerful Republican official — a man who has personally spearheaded a years-long campaign to politicize the federal judiciary — not only delivered a keynote address, he also specifically praised the justice's work on a controversial issue that the Supreme Court will be considering in its next term.

Every time the high court considers abortion cases, McConnell said, "Justice Thomas writes a separate, concise opinion to cut through the 50-year tangle of made-up tests and shifting standards and calmly reminds everybody that the whole house of cards lacks a constitutional foundation." The audience at the Heritage Foundation applauded in approval.

Is it any wonder why public confidence in the high court's impartiality has waned?

McConnell's public praise for Thomas came three weeks after Justice Samuel Alito delivered the latest in a series of provocative speeches with an unmistakable political bent.

A couple of weeks earlier, Justice Amy Coney Barrett tried to defend the Supreme Court's political impartiality — while speaking alongside McConnell, who rushed her onto the bench during last fall's presidential election as part of a brazenly political display, and who invited the justice to speak at a University of Louisville center that bears his name.

"My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks," Barrett said in her remarks.

Heaven forbid. Why would anyone dare to think such a thing?