A welcome break from congressional Republicans' relentless hyper-partisanship has been offered by, of all people, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa. Grassley, whose rushed confirmation of controversial Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh infuriated Democrats everywhere, is an unlikely candidate for bipartisan plaudits. But Grassley deserves just that for telling an interviewer Tuesday that he would not allow a Supreme Court vacancy to be filled in the 2020 presidential election year, should one open then.
Grassley couched it as a matter of consistency, since the Republican-controlled Senate refused throughout 2016 to consider President Barack Obama's high court nominee, Merrick Garland, instead holding the seat open until the election was decided. The spoils went to the Republican winner, President Donald Trump.
The architect of this cynical breach of modern political norms, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, maintains it was justified by the approaching presidential election. Now, predictably, McConnell is reworking that stance to justify approving a hypothetical Republican nominee, should another vacancy arise in 2020. This would further politicize the already-damaged confirmation process. McConnell should listen to his Judiciary Committee chairman.
With McConnell still defending his indefensible 2016 stunt, let's be clear on some things: No, it isn't "normal" for the Senate to hold open a seat for almost a year for no reason but the hope that its own party will be back in charge. No, old hypothetical musings by then-Sen. Joe Biden or anyone else do not constitute some "rule" about election-year confirmations. No, there's no constitutional validity in explicitly tying a court opening to a presidential election. McConnell just pulled this stuff out of the ether.
And now, having made up the rules as he went along, he's trying to change them. In 2016, McConnell's excuse for snubbing any Obama nominee was that voters in the upcoming presidential election "should have a say in the court's direction" — which ignored the Constitution's specific goal of keeping the court outside of electoral politics.
But now McConnell, by way of explaining why a 2020 confirmation wouldn't violate his own stated rationale for what he did before, has come up with a new, even more convoluted rationale. Now he's saying it's "tradition" that "if a vacancy occurs in a presidential election year, and there is a different party in control of the Senate than the presidency, it is not filled."
There is no such tradition, no such rule. It is a figment of McConnell's imagination.
Next to McConnell's continued Machiavellian machinations, Grassley was refreshingly straightforward with his answer to the question of whether, as Judiciary Committee chairman, he would consider a 2020 nominee: "If I'm chairman, they won't take it up ... because I pledged that in 2016."
Let's call that "The Grassley Rule." McConnell should pronounce it out loud and, for once, stick to it.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH