Politics & Policy

The Future of the GOP Hangs in the Balance in the Coming Supreme Court Fight

Robert Bork at his Senate confirmation hearings in 1987. (CNP/Getty)

This morning, the Washington Post’s James Hohmann made perhaps the Left’s single-strongest argument for confirming President Obama’s imminent Supreme Court nominee — obstructionism could cost the GOP its Senate majority. Hohmann argues that McConnell’s vow to block Obama’s pick is a “bold and understandable gambit,” but he claims it could “backfire badly.” Here’s how:

Assuming the president picks a Hispanic, African American, or Asian American — bonus points if she’s a woman — this could be exactly what Democrats need to re-activate the Obama coalition that fueled his victories in 2008 and 2012. Even if he does not go with a minority candidate, the cases on the docket will galvanize voters who are traditionally less likely to turn out.

Expect this argument to be amplified again and again. The media will hammer Republicans, the Left will enlist its entire, lavishly-funded grassroots army to press for a vote, and each and every Republican who even thinks about breaking ranks will be hailed for their “integrity” and “courage” by every left-leaning publication across the land.

In other words, all the elements are present for a classic Republican cave — identity politics, astroturf agitation, and the media-industrial complex have proven time and again that they can trump the will of GOP voters. But if the Republican Senate hands control of one branch of government to the Democrats — during a presidential election, no less — it not only won’t save its majority, it will likely hammer the final nail in the GOP’s coffin. Given all the advantages the GOP brings to this fight, the Republican party would richly deserve its painful death.

Each branch of government is tasked with defending our Constitution, and it is past time for Senate Republicans to step up.

It’s far from clear that a Supreme Court nomination battle will motivate an Obama coalition that was dependent largely on Barack Obama’s unique personality and biography. To presume that low-information voters will turn out in equal numbers for old, white Hillary or Bernie because they’re angry that Republicans turned aside the first Asian-American Supreme Court justice strikes me as sheer fantasy. Supreme Court nominations tend to activate the informed base, not the uninformed masses.

As off-year, base elections like 2010 and 2014 have demonstrated, the conservative informed base is arguably larger and more motivated than the liberal grassroots. Will more liberals turn out to swing the balance of power in the Court, or will more conservatives turn out to save the Second Amendment?

Moreover, it is entirely appropriate for senators to impose a philosophical litmus test on any Supreme Court nominee. Yes, elections have consequences, but so do oaths of office, and each senator swears that he or she will not only “support and defend” the Constitution, but that they’ll “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Voting to confirm any nominee who will likely affirm and advance our nation’s dangerous, post-constitutional drift is a violation of that oath. Each branch of government is tasked with defending our Constitution, and it is past time for Senate Republicans to step up.

#share#In fact, the conservative argument for waiting until after the next election is painfully easy to make. A child could counter leftist talking points with one name — Robert Bork. In 1987, the Democratic party crossed the Rubicon when they not only rejected a highly qualified conservative Supreme Court nominee, they did so in the most shameful way possible — through an avalanche of lies and character assassination. Here’s Ted Kennedy describing “Robert Bork’s America”:

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

The Democrats have proven that they will not only reject a judicial nominee on the basis of politics, but that they’ll lie relentlessly to do so. They still look back on Bork’s nomination battle as a triumph of the progressive movement. A Republican party that cannot use that precedent to justify a far-more-temperate response to an Obama appointee is a party that’s lost any shred of political competence.

#related#Defenders of the GOP establishment have for years pointed out — quite fairly — that while the Republican House and Senate haven’t been able to roll back the worst elements of Obama’s “fundamental transformation,” they at least have said “no” enough times to make it substantially less bad. The GOP has stopped cap and trade, it’s stopped legislative amnesty (forcing Obama to use his “pen and phone”), it has stopped ENDA and union card-check legislation — the list of defeated Obama initiatives is long and important. But if the GOP consents to an Obama Supreme Court appointee, the “party of no” will be the party that said “yes” to a political and legal change that will have generational consequences.

In this battle, Republicans have the Senate majority, the lockstep support of an energized base, the Constitution, and the better political argument. If the GOP can’t hold the line under those circumstances, then its Senate majority will be the least of its concerns. The GOP coalition — already strained to the breaking point by Donald Trump’s challenge — may well shatter apart. The GOP as we know it could cease to exist, killed not by electoral defeats but by its own cowardice and incompetence. Fight well, GOP. Your institutional life is at stake.


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