Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been the frequent target of criticism, at Breitbart News and elsewhere, as a stalwart of the Republican establishment who has often thwarted conservatives on Capitol Hill.
But today, McConnell has earned his place on the conservative honor roll for his part in saving the Supreme Court. Donald Trump deserves the lion’s share of the credit, for his improbable victory in 2016. But McConnell was key.
Last February, when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away suddenly, President Barack Obama relished the chance to replace him with a liberal judge and tip the balance of the Court decisively to the left.
In contrast to his two earlier choices, one of whom had no judicial experience whatsoever, Obama placed qualifications above identity politics, picking the highly-respected liberal judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit. He would have been confirmed easily.
But McConnell, who had conceded to the Obama administration over and over again, took the bold and risky step of preventing Garland’s consideration. He had a precedent in hand: the so-called “Biden rule.” As he said in the Senate:
The next justice could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court and have a profound impact on our country, so of course the American people should have a say in the Court’s direction…
The American people may well elect a President who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration. The next President may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.
Let me remind colleagues what Vice President Biden said when he was Judiciary Chairman here in the Senate:
It would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is under way, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over. That is what is fair to the nominee and is central to the process. …
The Biden Rule underlines that what the President has done with this nomination would be unfair to any nominee, and more importantly the rule warns of the great costs the President’s action could carry for our nation.
It was an argument for which President Obama had no answer.
Still, McConnell came under pressure from the media and the D.C. establishment, who had trusted him to evade the kind of gridlock he was now enforcing.
As the election drew nearer, and Trump’s chances seemed slim, some worried whether McConnell had made a catastrophic blunder. Hillary Clinton might have nominated Garland again — but then she might also have nominated someone much worse.
Through it all, McConnell held the line, understanding that the Constitution, and the nation’s future, were at stake.
This week, faced with a filibuster by Democrats that had nothing to do with the nominee, and everything to do with politics and revenge, McConnell dispensed with two centuries of tradition and ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. It could not have been easy to do for a man who venerates the Senate’s history and traditions — a fact that Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) used to taunt McConnell in Senate debate on Thursday.
McConnell did it anyway, clearing the way for Gorsuch to pass Friday’s confirmation vote by a simple majority. Democrats may soon have cause to regret wasting the filibuster on such an eminently qualified judge. Now President Trump has a free hand to appoint far more conservative judges to the Supreme Court — and there may be new opportunities sooner rather than later.
An essay by liberal attorney Thomas Geoghegan in the Washington Monthly reminds us of the fate America narrowly avoided. Lamenting the Gorsuch nomination, Geoghegan mourns the lost opportunity to install a liberal Court.
In a striking admission of how liberals really feel about the purpose of the Supreme Court, Geoghegan writes: “In a way, it’s discouraging to hear so many anti-Trump voices saying that we must defend the Constitution. I understand the sense in which they mean it, but the challenge for the left has always been not to defend but to change the Constitution.” And the changes Geoghegan envisioned included enforcing gun control and “fundmental” socioeconomic rights.
That is what McConnell prevented: a judicial coup, through which legions of liberal lawyers intended to impose their will by fiat.
Whatever other grievances conservatives have had with him in the past, or may yet have in the future, his role in preserving the Court and the Constitution will be the most important legacy of his Senate leadership.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.