Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s announcement Thursday that he would vote against Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court was no surprise.
The Kentucky Republican has spent his nearly 40 years in the Senate forging his reputation as a staunch opponent of racial and gender progress, and his obsession with appointing judges who align with that view is well-known.
His speech on the Senate floor Thursday was full of racist dog whistles that hearken back to mid-20th century segregationists. In McConnell, we can see those ideas are clearly still with us today. His ugliest remarks were those pushing the false claim that Jackson is "soft on crime" — a thinly veiled attempt to associate a historic, Black Supreme Court nominee with lawlessness.
McConnell claimed Jackson would be the “crowning jewel” of a Biden administration “campaign to make the federal bench systemically softer on crime.” He bemoaned a “deeply invested far-left fan club” that he claimed wanted Jackson elected, an empty claim undercut by the judge's bipartisan support, including from conservative organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police. And he ominously referenced “creative ways she actually bent the law” — seeming to suggest she did so to help criminal offenders.
All of this was racist nonsense, but nonsense that's nonetheless targeted at the conservative id, which has historically been eager to accept such claims as truth.
McConnell’s speech hearkened back to that of the infamous Southern segregationist George Wallace, the Alabama governor who once advocated for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
Like McConnell and the rest of the GOP, Wallace tried to paint judges who enforce laws that advance racial equality as mischievous and dangerous to public safety.
Here’s the excerpt that followed Wallace’s segregation comments:
The federal troops in Mississippi could better be used guarding the safety of the citizens of Washington , D.C., where it is unsafe to walk or go to a ball game — and that is in the nation’s capitol. I was safer in a B-29 bomber over Japan during the war in an air raid, than the people of Washington are walking in the White House neighborhood. A closer example of this is Atlanta. The city officials fawn for political reasons over school integration and then build barricades to stop residential integration — what hypocrisy!
Wallace vowed to fight against antiracist laws, and told judges enforcing them to “put that in their opium pipes of power and smoke it for what it is worth.”
McConnell’s speech on Thursday invoked a similar fury over nonwhite people and their allies having a say about justice. But with Jackson seemingly on the verge of confirmation, there’s nothing McConnell can do but cast his vote and complain.