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St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board

Editorial: GOP opposition to Jackson only helps further politicize the Supreme Court

The absurd chorus of Republican rationalization for opposing Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson hit a crescendo over the weekend with this comment from Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt: “I won’t be supporting her, but I’ll be joining others in understanding the importance of this moment.” Huh? Other GOP senators have waxed on about Jackson’s sterling qualifications, while announcing that they, too, will vote no for various contrived reasons.

Why not just say the obvious? The entire process of seating justices has become so poisoned that party-line votes, once the exception, are now the rule. Democrats did it, too, during the three nomination fights under former President Donald Trump.

Conservatives can justifiably point out that, in 1987, Democrats blocked qualified nominee Robert Bork for purely ideological reasons. But the Bork fight was an aberration in a period when most nominees of either party won easy confirmation. The 1991 fight over Clarence Thomas was spurred by sexual misconduct allegations, not his conservatism. Throughout that era, conservative justices like Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Chief Justice John Roberts won either unanimous or overwhelming bipartisan support from the Senate.

The current era of scorched-earth political fights with every Supreme Court vacancy has a starting date: Feb. 13, 2016. Scalia was found dead that day. Within an hour, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the shocking announcement that he wouldn’t allow a vote on any nominee President Barack Obama might put forward during his remaining 11 months in office.

While there were legitimate issues debated regarding the three subsequent nominations under Trump, the real rallying point for Democratic opposition was, and always would be, McConnell’s brazen theft of a seat. McConnell pushed Trump’s nominees through anyway, changing the rules to disallow filibusters on Supreme Court nominations — something Democrats had specifically refrained from doing earlier when they disallowed filibusters on other positions. McConnell’s final affront to norms and decency was to ram through the last-minute confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett shortly before Trump left office, discarding his own flimsy excuses about letting voters decide when a vacancy arises close to a presidential election.

In this context, the GOP’s almost-unified opposition to Jackson was predictable. But, alas, Jackson has given them nothing to legitimately justify their opposition. So Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley attacks her spotless judicial record. Other senators pretend there’s something troubling about her thoroughly mainstream constitutional philosophy. And Blunt issues a meaningless word salad designed to make his vote against Jackson sound like something principled instead of politically preordained.

They’re all playing by the current rules of the game, which injects politics into the justice system and diminishes the court’s credibility with Americans every time it’s played. This was a chance for Republicans to finally end this destructive game. But they choose instead to keep playing.


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