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Herald editorial: GOP holds all cards in Supreme Court drama, but should they play them?

By Staff | Sep 26, 2020

A lot has happened since Supreme Court icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away eight days ago.

Ginsburg, 87, died late last week after numerous bouts with cancer. She was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 by Bill Clinton and leaves a legacy of championing civil rights by consistently registering passionate progressive votes on issues dealing with abortion rights, affirmative action, same-sex marriage, immigration and health care, among other landmark decisions.

As with anything happening in Washington these days — and seemingly across the country as well — almost any action is automatically viewed through politically tinted glasses. Undeniably, replacing a seat on the Supreme Court has evolved into a main act in partisan political theater, even in the best of times. And just a cursory glance at 2020 as a year so far — even for the most disconnected American — reveals these are certainly not the best of times.

If this past week is any indication, it would appear that Utah Sen. Mitt Romney will play a significant role in whether or not the Republicans are able to fill Ginsburg’s Supreme Court vacancy — either before the election or during a potential lame-duck period between the casting of ballots and any changes in power in the White House or Senate. Much like Chief Justice John Roberts himself, Romney is somewhat viewed as a swing-vote moderate from both sides of the aisle. A vocal critic of President Donald Trump, even before the latter’s election in 2016, Romney was the only member of the GOP in either the House or Senate to vote in favor of his impeachment.

Largely because of that impeachment vote, and bolstered by his outspoken criticism of the president, many hoped Romney would again side with Democrats — and a couple other GOP Senate holdouts — in withholding commitment to vote on a Trump pick until after seeing election results on Nov. 3.

But Romney stated this week that he would, in fact, vote on Trump’s nomination — strongly expected to come later Saturday in the form of Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Confirmation hearings are expected to begin within two weeks. Not surprisingly, Romney has come under some criticism for his decision, which all but guarantees the process will roll forward.

Whatever your political preference, in this instance, we do not believe Romney’s vote warrants criticism. It’s interesting to see some of the same people who praised the Utah senator for voting his conscience when it came to Trump’s impeachment now castigating him for following his beliefs in moving toward filling the Supreme Court vacancy — and vice versa. The intriguing thing about politics, we have noticed, is voting one’s conscience is always more laudable when that person’s action aligns with our own particular viewpoint. Maybe it’s less about supporting one’s conscience and more about them doing what we individually want? But we digress.

Admittedly, this Supreme Court pick would appear to promise more impact than any other in recent memory, solidifying a conservative-leaning majority, and offsetting Roberts’ swing-vote tendency. This, quite naturally, is why both sides have so adamantly drawn their lines in the shifting sands of public opinion. Democrats have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s own words from 2015, when he blocked then-President Barack Obama’s last-year nomination of Merrick Garland, to bolster their claims of GOP hypocrisy, while Republicans cite the grand old tradition of final-year confirmations when the presidency and Senate are held by the same party.

Regardless of rhetoric, Republicans appear determined to push the current confirmation through as quickly as possible while Democrats loudly lobby for waiting until early 2021, when their position could presumably be much stronger.

We concede, by virtue of holding both the White House and Senate, Republicans are in the enviable position of being able to proceed with the nomination/confirmation process and push Trump’s choice all the way through to the Supreme Court — and there’s little Democrats can do to stop it. The more pertinent question is should they?

All things considered, we encourage the GOP to take a deliberate, if quickened pace, in these proceedings. Candidate vetting should not be rushed to meet some arbitrary election day deadline, especially since, from the GOP vantage point, there is still time to confirm the nomination in any post-election, pre-inauguration session. The most important thing, politics and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s quiver of arrows notwithstanding, is seating a totally qualified candidate whose influence will likely be felt for decades.

Over the next three and a half months, Republicans are going to do what they’re going to do in this matter. They appear to have every legal right to do so. If the Democrats win the White House and Senate in November, they will be in position to make similar choices over the next two to four years as the culture wars and partisan divides continue. That’s the way elections work, and as a then-newly elected President Barack Obama pointed out to his conquered adversary Sen. John McCain in 2009, “Elections have consequences.”

We concur.

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