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Ginsburg was guided by principle, but McConnell cares only about power

By Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency on

People in public life tend to fall into one of two broad categories — those who are motivated by principle, and those motivated by power.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday night at the age of 87, exemplified the first.

When he nominated her in 1993, Bill Clinton called her “the Thurgood Marshall of gender-equality law,” comparing her advocacy and lower-court rulings in pursuit of equal rights for women with the work of the great jurist who advanced the cause of equal rights for Black people. Ginsburg persuaded the Supreme Court that the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection applied not only to racial discrimination but to sex discrimination as well.

For Ginsburg, principle was everything — not only equal rights, but also the integrity of democracy. Always concerned about the consequences of her actions for the system as a whole, she advised young people to “fight for the things you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell exemplifies the second category of people in public life. He couldn’t care less about principle. He is motivated entirely by the pursuit of power.

McConnell refused to allow the Senate to vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, in March 2016 — almost a year before the end of Obama’s term of office — on the dubious grounds that the “vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

 

McConnell’s move was a pure power grab. No Senate leader had ever before asserted the right to block a vote on a president’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

McConnell’s “principle” of waiting for a new president disappeared Friday evening, after Ginsburg’s death was announced.

Just weeks before one of the most consequential presidential elections in American history, when absentee voting has already begun in many states (and will start in McConnell’s own state of Kentucky in a few weeks), McConnell announced: “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

This is, after all, the same Mitch McConnell who, soon after Donald Trump was elected, ended the age-old requirement that Supreme Court nominees receive 60 votes to end debate and allow for a confirmation vote, and then, days later, pushed through Trump’s first nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

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