Supreme Court

How lucky do Senate Republicans feel?

Garrett Tenney reports from Washington, D.C.


Republicans, who currently enjoy a Senate majority, are defending 24 Senate seats this November, while Democrats are defending 10.  Their chances of winning the White House with Donald Trump as the nominee are difficult, as poll after poll shows.  As of this writing, the forecast for their electoral prospects looks bleak.

Into this breach steps Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, who is, notably, the oldest nominee in 45 years.  He is, in fact, so inoffensive to the Republican Party that Senator Orrin Hatch praised him last Sunday by saying that he was sure President Obama would never nominate this “fine man” and moderate to the court. Clearly, Senator Hatch won’t be winning any Senate poker tournaments anytime soon.

The Republicans can stand on whatever principle they have developed at this late date and refuse to give Judge Garland a hearing and a vote.  But in order to do that, they must feel very confident that their Senate majority will be secure next year and that a Democrat will not win the White House – something that empirical data shows is uncertain, at best.

Poll after poll shows Donald Trump losing to Clinton this November.  Democrats need only to win five seats currently held by a Republican – or four if a Democratic vice president is elected to break a tie – out of the 24 who are up this year. Of those, seven are currently held by Republican senators who represent states carried by President Obama in both 2008 and 2012. 

Surely, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can read the polls better than some members of his base who let their ideology cloud their arithmetic skills.

Do Republicans really believe that President Hillary Clinton will offer them a better deal than the one with which they were presented by President Obama on Wednesday? An ideal Democratic Supreme Court nominee is at least a decade younger than Judge Garland and likely much more liberal in his or her views.

Perhaps McConnell and his fellow senators really do believe that the voters should have a voice this November in the selection of the next justice.  Perhaps they are still furious about the treatment Robert Bork received at the hands of a Democratic senate majority a generation ago – though Bork was, of course, given a hearing, a committee vote and an up-or-down vote by the full senate. 

Perhaps they are catering to an ever-more rabid party that will brook no compromise with this president. 

Perhaps they have read too many of their own press releases and truly believe that Hillary Clinton cannot possibly win the election because she will be indicted for having a private email server, although hoping and praying for an unlikely outcome is generally not smart campaign strategy.  

It may be that Republicans are waiting to see how the election turns out before giving Judge Garland a vote. They must be very sure that President Obama will not withdraw the nomination to provide Clinton with the opportunity to name her own justice in the event that she wins this November.

Regardless of their motives, they are doing their own base a disservice. 

Unless they run the table this November by electing a Republican president and maintaining their senate majority, the nominee a Democratic president puts forward may not be as acceptable to them as this one.  And through their intransigence, they really will have shaped the court for an entire generation – just not in the direction they ever envisioned.