WASHINGTON — When Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls the Supreme Court a “Trump-McConnell” court, she doesn’t take it as a compliment. Senator Mitch McConnell will consider it that way anyway.
“I want to thank her for confirming the obvious,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and minority leader, said in an interview.
Mr. McConnell is unquestionably the chief architect – if not the chief architect – of the conservative tribunal that has rocked the nation over the past week with a series of rulings on abortion, guns and religion – a trio of burning cultural questions.
While much of the public recoiled from the decisions and prospect of others to come in the years to come, Mr McConnell, a deep admirer of Justice Antonin Scalia, saw the culmination of a personal push to reshape the court in the image of the conservative judicial icon. Mr. McConnell said his goal was “to take us back to where Scalia would have taken us to a majority textualist and originalist. And we have that for the first time in history.
This historic achievement had a price: the embrace of Donald J. Trump. Mr. McConnell and his fellow Republicans may have had misgivings about Mr. Trump, but they were more than willing to throw aside reservations — and courtesy of the Senate — in the zealous pursuit of a reliable conservative court. Mr. Trump, however problematic, was a means to an end.
Now Mr. Trump has left office, but the court he fashioned remains a bulwark against progressive initiatives on topics including climate change, gun control, the conduct of elections and campaign finance. – all areas of great interest to Mr. McConnell and those close to him. where public opinion often diverges sharply from his own. Even if legislation Republicans don’t like somehow manages to evade Congress, they can now confidently turn to the court to deal with it.
Senate Republicans didn’t have to make the politically risky decision to ban abortions; the court did it for them.
If all of this seems like a perverse outcome in a democracy – a court that imposes minority-backed policies on the country’s majority – Mr McConnell says it’s as it should be.
“The Supreme Court exists to protect unpopular opinions,” he said. “Virtually everything in the Constitution is designed to defend the minority against the majority. It is not a majority institution in the sense that it must follow public opinion. It’s our job.
The situation has outraged Democrats as the series of landmark rulings have been a bitter reminder of the heavy-handed tactics Mr. McConnell employed to install three conservatives on the Supreme Court – and score more in lower courts – during Mr. .Trump. , a man with whom Mr McConnell has since severed ties.
“It’s a fact that Merrick Garland should be on the Supreme Court and Amy Coney Barrett shouldn’t be, and wouldn’t be without Mitch McConnell’s shameless manipulation of the process,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat from Connecticut.
It was the death of Justice Scalia in 2016 that opened the door to Mr. McConnell’s substandard decision to block Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick B. Garland for nearly a year. It was not part of the original plan, but the vacant court seat produced what Mr McConnell described as an “unanticipated” electoral bounce for Mr Trump, helping him win the presidency.
Thanks to the concerted efforts of Mr. McConnell and Donald F. McGahn II, Mr. Trump’s first White House lawyer, three Trump-appointed judges were then pushed into court, culminating in the confirmation of Judge Barrett within days. before Mr. Trump. lost the 2020 election.
Mr. McConnell broke Senate traditions to fill the seats. He blocked Justice Garland on the grounds that a Supreme Court opening should not be filled in a presidential election year, only to backtrack four years later and rush Justice Barrett onto the court with an impending election.
“The inconsistency, the hypocrisy,” Ms Pelosi said last week as she railed against the court and the machinations of Mr McConnell. “I don’t respect this process.”
Mr McConnell insists he did nothing untoward.
“It’s not cheating,” he said of his decision to deny Judge Garland a hearing. “Sometimes we act on nominations and sometimes we don’t. It happens to be one of the biggest. But it is not at all uncommon for the Senate not to consent to appointments.
And, he noted, voters had a chance to deliver their own verdict on his tactics in 2016.
“That decision was there in the 2016 election for the American people to decide if they thought it was appropriate,” he said. “And in the end, they elected someone who filled the vacancy with someone the Democrats didn’t like.”
Despite Mr McConnell’s satisfaction with the court’s rulings, a major public backlash against the cases could end up denying him the chance to return as Majority Leader next year if the uproar allows Democrats to retain their majority. Mr McConnell admits the court and its divisive rulings could be a factor in November.
“I’m sure it will be a problem in some campaigns, maybe not in others,” he said, adding that he expects the election to be mostly about inflation, of crime, immigration and President Biden’s popularity, even as Democrats try to put the focus on the court and its rulings.
“I’m sure they’ll try to do something else, but it’s going to be a referendum on the president’s approval rating, which is in the tank, and I think it’s hard for me to see how he turns it around. between now and November,” he said.
Mr McConnell had his sights set on the election by sanctioning bipartisan gun control legislation the president signed into law on Saturday, acknowledging after the vote that he hoped it could help Republicans with suburban voters who have abandoned the party in the recent elections. Once again, his party could reap the political benefits after the court goes in the opposite direction to where polls show the American public is.
The senators barely had a chance to celebrate their rare bipartisan achievement before the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down New York’s concealed carry law, which quickly overshadowed the narrow bill and raised questions about the prospects for staying. bipartisanship.
“I’m angry with everyone who has gone through this conservative majority,” said Sen. Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, who expressed concern that the court would restrict government regulations that protect Americans. “We are going through a difficult period and a period of great instability.”
Ultimately, Mr. McConnell believes he has fostered an ascension of judges at all levels who will focus on a simple reading of the law and the Constitution which, in the case of abortion, will bring back the taking of decision where he thinks it belonged to all. on.
“The American people will now be able to weigh in on this sensitive issue,” he said, “and the democratic process will produce a result.”