A couple of weeks before Election Day 2020, as Senate Republicans scrambled to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, progressive voters not only expressed outrage, they also looked to then-candidate Joe Biden for answers.
On Oct. 22, the Democratic nominee said he would, if elected, establish a commission to examine possible Supreme Court reforms in response to Republican abuses. The idea at least left the door open to meaningful institutional changes.
Almost exactly a year later, that door started to close. The president followed through on the creation of a commission, but its members released initial findings last month, none of which included bold recommendations. Those hoping to see dramatic changes to the high court quickly realized that Biden's commission probably wouldn't be the vehicle to help deliver major reforms.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wasn't satisfied with the fact that the commission's initial findings landed with a thud. The Kentucky Republican wrote a new op-ed for The Washington Post denouncing the fact that Democrats even broached the subject in the first place.
Judicial independence is as fragile as it is important. The Framers of our Constitution took great pains to protect it.... Every single American deserves every possible guarantee that they will receive impartial justice. It would be beyond reckless for Democrats to smash this centuries-old safeguard in a fit of partisan pique.
The GOP's Senate leader proceeded to urge sitting justices not to allow Democratic threats to "change legal outcomes," adding that such a dynamic "would poison the actual source of the court's legitimacy — its impartiality."
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-warns-of-Supreme-Court-politicization hypocrisy.
To be sure, this is familiar ground for the Senate minority leader. It was nearly three years ago when McConnell lamented political "hostage-taking" after having pioneered the practice. In late 2018, he urged Democrats to remember the virtues of bipartisanship after refusing to consider bipartisan policymaking when he was in the position of power.
A year later, McConnell warned about the dangers of politicizing election security after having played a role in politicizing election security. The year after that, he mocked the U.S. House's work schedule while overseeing a Senate that wasn't doing any work. The year after that, McConnell lectured Democrats on the importance of institutional "norms," despite his role in taking a sledgehammer to Senate norms over the course of several years.
If there were a hall of fame for hypocrisy, Mitch McConnell would be a first-ballot inductee.
But there's something qualitatively worse about McConnell pretending to care about "judicial independence" and the "impartiality" of the Supreme Court.
Circling back to our earlier coverage, 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.
The Kentucky Republican made matters much worse by confirming Barrett the week before the election — abandoning the principles McConnell pretended to care about four years earlier — even after millions of voters had already cast their 2020 ballots.
Adding insult to injury, McConnell said this year he hasn't ruled out the possibility of blocking Biden's Supreme Court nominees if the Senate GOP has a majority after the 2022 midterm elections. More recently, the Republican hung out with a sitting conservative justice at a political organization's event and praised the justice's work on a controversial issue that the Supreme Court will be considering in its next term.
Now the minority leader wants to give lectures about judicial "independence" and "impartiality"? If McConnell doesn't want to be laughed at, he should make fewer ridiculous arguments.