My last blog attempted to inject a little humor in the news, which admittedly is abysmal. It is my sense that people are getting so depressed by the news that they can’t deal with it anymore. But we can’t let a feeling of hopelessness prevail or Republicans will succeed with their egregious policies like cutting taxes for the wealthy and politicizing the federal judiciary.
Federal courts are the keystone of the Constitution’s separation of powers. When the executive branch or the legislative branch infringes individual rights we citizens have the courts to redress our grievances. But what if the courts become tools of the controlling political party? That not only could happen, it’s already happening.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is an unscrupulous, power-hungry politician who will do anything to retain his leadership status and promote the Republican Party, mostly in that order. After Barack Obama was elected in 2008 Minority Leader McConnell devised a plan to thwart everything President Obama attempted.
For years McConnell blocked many of Obama’s choices for executive branch positions and federal judgeships. Finally, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) implemented the so-called “nuclear option” in 2013 for executive appointments and lower court nominations. This prevented McConnell from using a filibuster to obstruct Obama from filling federal court vacancies for a time.
When Republicans took control of the Senate in 2014, however, McConnell had complete control of the agenda. This culminated with his blocking of Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Anthony Scalia’s death. Some Republicans in Congress even threatened to block Hillary Clinton’s nominations to the Supreme Court had she won the presidency.
McConnell’s strategy paid off big when Donald Trump won last November. President Trump has an unprecedented opportunity to appoint hundreds of federal judges, including several Supreme Court justices. In fact, Trump’s only significant win after a year in office has been Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Now Trump and McConnell are attempting to fill federal court vacancies ASAP and the primary qualifications seem to be white, male and very conservative. The Trump administration no longer allows the American Bar Association to vet nominees before they are announced and several approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee under chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) were evaluated by the ABA as “unqualified.”
Both Democrats and Republicans have tended to nominate justices that were more inline with their political philosophies over the years but never in such a blatant attempt to ensure that judicial decisions are based on politics instead of the law. Moreover, today’s conservative objectives are less about small government, fiscal restraint and balanced budgets and more about outlawing abortions, quashing gay rights, preventing immigration and promoting so-called religious freedom.
Republicans have switched from controlling spending to controlling peoples’ lives and imposing their social conservative views on the populace. That is a dramatic and ominous pivot and I believe they intend to totally use the courts to accomplish their objectives.
Loading the federal courts with unqualified, far-right conservatives is threatening enough but congressional Republicans may attempt a much more ambitious goal by expanding the number of judges on the appellate courts. That would enable Trump to appoint conservative majorities on all of them.
Steven G. Calabresi, a law professor at Northwestern University and board chairman of the conservative Federalist Society, has authored an article entitled “Proposed Judgeship Bill.” In it he recommends that the Republican-controlled Congress double or triple the number of judges on the federal appellate courts and add hundreds of federal district court judgeships. Calabresi brazenly stated his objective: “undoing the judicial legacy of President Barack Obama.”
Conservative media is rife with conspiracy theories and no doubt there are some from the left too. Well, here is one from the center — and I think it has legs: Conservatives are conspiring to virtually eliminate the Democratic Party and all liberal influence on government policies. They are seeking a one-party government of the wealthy, a plutocracy. And there is ample evidence of this.
Republican controlled states used the 2010 census to engage in radical redistricting that almost guaranteed Republican control of state congressional delegations. After the conservative majority on the Supreme Court substantially gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Republican-controlled states enacted strict voter ID laws that make voting harder for minorities and other typical Democrats. And now the Justice Department under far-right Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stopped challenging these states’ efforts to suppress voting rights.
The Supreme Court currently has a conservative majority but just think of what will happens to our constitutional rights if all federal appellate courts have conservative majorities? The answer is quite clear. Radical conservative policies will be imposed on we the people.
The political upheavals of the 1960s, with Vietnam and assassinations, were horrific; Watergate revealed corruption and criminality at the highest levels of government; and the costly invasion of Iraq was probably the worst foreign policy decision in the nation’s history. But none of these past earth-shaking upheavals fundamentally threatened our democracy. What Trump and the GOP are doing to undermine the Constitution by politicizing the courts definitely does — and it’s a clear and present danger.
So Don’t be anxious, be angry. Don’t be depressed, be dedicated to challenging Republican legislative abominations; and donate to organizations that oppose them. Now is a time for redoubled action, not resignation.