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Mitch McConnell, court packer

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

WASHINGTON -- Permit me a question to every truly fair-minded person in our country. Imagine that one party packs the Supreme Court with ideologues and the other party does absolutely nothing in response. Isn't this abject surrender to an unscrupulous power grab?

This inquiry can no longer be ducked. Even those in the deepest denial can no longer ignore Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's nakedly political aim of cramming the Supreme Court with justices who will undo more than seven decades of precedent. They'll do the bidding of corporate interests, undercut voting rights and empower billionaires to buy elections.

What McConnell said in 2016 to rationalize his decision not even to hold hearings on President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the court is now, to appropriate the word from the Nixon era, inoperative.

Back then, McConnell waxed all bourbon-and-branch about "tradition." He made the misleading claim that keeping a court seat open in an election year until a new president took office dated back to 1880. "The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let's give them a voice," he told us. He piously insisted that this was "about a principle, not a person."

Some principle.

What he embraced all along was what we can now call the Paducah Principle, named after the venerable Kentucky community whose Chamber of Commerce meeting McConnell graced on Tuesday.

 

Under the Paducah Principle, McConnell will use any method available to stuff the Supreme Court with young, right-wing nominees who will do the bidding of conservative interest groups regardless of what voters say in the next election -- or the one after that, or the next one, or the next.

An attendee at the Chamber of Commerce event put an admirably unvarnished query to McConnell that created an exact parallel to 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away: "Should a Supreme Court justice die next year, what will your position be on filling that spot?"

"Oh, we'd fill it," McConnell said quickly, with that small smile of his. Court-packing -- excuse me, loading the court with your ideological friends -- is the one way you can set the nation's political course no matter what voters decide year to year. "You want to have a long-lasting positive impact," he explained. "Everything else changes. ... What can't be undone is a lifetime appointment to a young man or woman who believes in the quaint notion that the job of a judge is to follow the law."

Of course, "follow the law" for conservatives means the law back before the mid-1930s. Conservatives have long dreamt about salvaging what they call the "Constitution in Exile," a reading that lets courts eviscerate the ability of the legislative and executive branches (and state governments) to protect workers and regulate the economy -- back to the days before Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade and the one-person, one-vote decisions.

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