Let’s Ditch Mitch

The Senate majority leader comes out of his shell.

Mitch, on the other hand, has a longstanding alliance with the National Rifle Association, which has shown its affection to the tune of about $1.3 million in support. Anything the N.R.A. dislikes never gets the chance to come up for a Senate vote. Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is moldering away in a corner because the N.R.A. doesn’t want authorities taking guns away from domestic abusers.

It’s been another terrible year of mass shooting violence. One simple, very popular response would be to improve the background checks for gun purchases. It would at least show our elected officials care about the crisis.

Such a bill passed the House of Representatives and went to the Senate where it’s, um, lying around somewhere. “There’s a whole bunch of Republican support, but he won’t let it move to the floor,” said minority leader Chuck Schumer.

This goes on a lot. McConnell, who has near total control over what comes up for a vote, sits on things he doesn’t like until they smother. Farewell, immigration reform, Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions, lowering prescription drug prices, protecting election security, restoring net neutrality.

Cruz: GOP may block Supreme Court nominees indefinitely

In a vintage return to his confrontational style, Sen. Ted Cruz indicated that Republicans could seek to block a Democratic president from filling the vacant Supreme Court seat indefinitely.

After staking his endorsement of Donald Trump on a list of potential conservative Supreme Court nominees, Cruz said on Wednesday that there is precedent to limiting the Supreme Court to just eight justices. Last week, Cruz’s colleague, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), suggested the GOP should confirm President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to avoid having to swallow a more liberal nominee under Hillary Clinton.

As is his nature, Cruz took a harder line when asked how Republicans would handle a potential Clinton nominee while campaigning in Colorado for Darryl Glenn, a longshot candidate for the Senate.

“There will be plenty of time for debate on that issue … There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices. I would note, just recently, that Justice [Stephen] Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have,” Cruz said, in remarks first reported by The Washington Post.

Cruz was unlikely to vote for any Democratic nominee given his conservative ideology, but his remarks could indicate a broader shift within the GOP to halt Democrats from shifting the court’s balance to the left. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said earlier this month the GOP would be “united” in blocking a Clinton appointment, remarks he later softened.

An indefinite GOP blockade of a Supreme Court nominee would almost certainly lead to an erosion in the Senate’s supermajority requirement. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has already suggested lowering the bar for Supreme Court nominee from 60 votes to a simple majority. Under Reid, Democrats changed the Senate rules to allow all nominees but Supreme Court appointments to be approved by a majority vote.

Merrick Garland Supreme Court nomination

Following the February 2016 death of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin ScaliaPresident Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court on March 16, 2016. At the time of his nomination, Garland was the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Scalia’s death led to an unusual situation in which a Democratic president had the opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court nominee while the Republicans controlled the United States Senate; before Scalia’s death, such a situation last occurred when a Senate Republican majority confirmed Grover Cleveland‘s nomination of Rufus Wheeler Peckham in 1895.[1] Conversely, in February 1988, during an election year, the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed Anthony Kennedy, who was the Republican President Ronald Reagan‘s nominee for the Supreme Court, though Kennedy had been nominated in November 1987 to replace Lewis Powell who was nominated by Richard Nixon, and the vacancy had occurred in June 1987.[2] On October 9, 1990, the Democratic controlled Senate (55–45) confirmed President George H. W. Bush appointee, David Souter, 90–9. On October 15, 1991, that same Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas, 52–48.

Kavanaugh’s accuser might be better off with a criminal trial. So might Kavanaugh.

Years later, Hill said that testifying during Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing was “worse than being put on trial, because in a trial you’ve got legal protections.”

.. But in some ways, a criminal trial might be better than testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee — at least for Ford.

.. At Thomas’s confirmation hearing 27 years ago, Republicans knew they were essentially going to turn the hearing into something like a trial, recalled Barbara A. Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who at the time was in her first term as a U.S. senator. “And Professor Hill would be the one on trial,” she recalled recently.

.. Ford might be better off as a complainant in a criminal case than at the mercy of a Senate committee with a partisan chairman unlikely to rein in its members.

.. At a criminal trial, juries are drawn from the general population and winnowed through in an adversarial process. The prosecutor and defense attorney work to eliminate bias and select a group to take on the role of juror effectively.

It’s not unheard for jurists to come in with preconceived notions, though jurors are not supposed to deliberate until all the evidence has been presented. Publicly voicing a prejudgment, however — as several Republican senators have already done — would constitute grounds to dismiss a prospective juror.

And yet those biased senators, with their preconceived notions, will be free to participate in the hearing should Ford come to Capitol Hill to testify.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said that Ford must be “mistaking [Kavanaugh] for someone else,” in a statement to Fox News. (Hatch also questioned Hill in 1991, and famously referred to her as an “allegator.”)

.. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said he was concerned by “gaps” in Ford’s version of events.

.. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chimed in Friday, assuring attendees at a summit in Washington D.C. for social conservatives that the Senate would “plow right through” to confirm Kavanaugh.He previously led a year-long Republican filibuster stonewalling President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, from the same bench.

.. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a former U.S. Attorney, responded to McConnell’s statement Saturday, saying on Twitter that if a trial judge or impaneled juror said “their mind was made up before all testimony is in,” it would be grounds for a mistrial.
.. The rules of evidence aren’t enforced at congressional hearings. But they would apply in a criminal case, benefiting both Kavanaugh and Ford, according to Aidala. Those rules preclude questioning on matters deemed inadmissible and those not relevant to deciding key issues.
.. “For Ford, I don’t know how far afield the senators will go about talking about her sexual exploits in high school and college; but they wouldn’t be able to do that in a court of law,”

.. These protections, crafted for sex crime victims, limit admissible evidence about a victim’s past sexual behavior.

.. More importantly, perhaps, the case would be presided over by a neutral judge, who would control all aspects of the trial and maintain courtroom decorum. A judge would also prevent attorneys from badgering testifying individuals; though trials feature drawn-out cross-examinations, lawyers cannot repeatedly rehash the same topic.

.. For Ford and Kavanaugh both, Aidala said, “the protection they have at a trial is that the lawyers aren’t playing to a constituency, or thinking about what video clip an opponent will replay during a reelection campaign.
.. senators have different motivations and are playing to a different audience.

.. Criminal defense attorney Roy Black told The Post that the problem with the Senate is that lawmakers are prejudiced, one way or the other.

“They all make speeches and then say, ‘What do you think about that?’ ” he said. “They don’t want to ask questions, and their minds are already made up. It’s very ineffectual when you have a real witness.”

.. The Judiciary Committee’s role here is not to determine guilt or innocence but to advise the Senate on whether to confirm Kavanaugh. The committee is not bound by the criminal standard of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, either.

.. If Kavanaugh was charged with attempted rape, there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Kavanaugh tried to rape her, “and that the assault, which happened so many decades ago, went far enough across the line to constitute an attempt,” he said.

.. As a criminal defendant, shielded with the presumption of innocence, Kavanaugh would not be required to testify or put forth any evidence in his defense.

Still, Black said that he would probably call Kavanaugh to the stand.

“He makes a good witness. He’s smart, he’s presentable, he’s articulate, and he’ll categorically deny it, so I don’t see any downside,” Black said.

.. whether Judge wished to testify at a criminal trial would be irrelevant.

.. Ford claimed that Judge was in the room, making him the sole known eyewitness and, therefore, a material witness. The prosecutor bears the burden to prove her case beyond a reasonable doubt, and she would necessarily subpoena Judge, even if it required arresting him and hauling him in. Failing to call Judge to the stand would result in a jury instruction against the prosecution’s case.

.. Judge signed off at Georgetown Prep with a Sir Noel Coward quote in the school’s yearbook: “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.”

.. He has described himself as having had a blackout drinking problem, and his 1997 memoir, “Wasted,” references high school “masturbation class,” “lusted after girls” at other Catholic schools and a “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” who passed out drunk and threw up in a car.

.. “I think Ford may well be telling the truth, but when you’re putting forward a proposition — in a criminal court, the Senate or an administrative hearing — there has to be some way of determining the truth,” he said. “You cannot punish someone on the testimony of one person, saying this happened 30 years ago, with no corroboration.”

National Review: Brett Kavanaugh: A good man and deserving judge

1. This was a contrived eleventh-hour ambush of the Kavanaugh nomination. From our editorial:

The hearing will probably degenerate into a political circus, given the theatrics at the first round of hearings even before a charge of sexual assault was on the table. The Democrats have conducted themselves disgracefully throughout this process, with their handling of this charge a new low and new depths sure to follow. But a public airing was unavoidable, certainly once both Kavanaugh and his accuser said they were willing to testify. We hope Republicans don’t blink from asking Ford tough questions about her account, even though such due diligence will be portrayed as rank sexism by Democrats and the media.

Absent any compelling new evidence that backs up the charge, we continue to strongly support Kavanaugh’s confirmation. We believe he’d make an excellent justice. In such a case, when emotions are high, a healthy republic should hew to basic principles of fairness. A good man and deserving judge should not be barred from the high court because of an unproven and almost certainly unprovable accusation of wrongdoing.

.. Andy: Our ace on this matter gives a thorough history lesson on the Democrats’ politicizing of the SCOTUS-nominee process (exclusively for GOP nominees!). From his savaging:

Justices Ginsburg and Breyer were well qualified. But, of course, so had been Bork and Thomas. Because they were Democrats, however, Ginsburg and Breyer sailed through. The two things Democrats and Republicans have in common are 1) abiding respect for the personal integrity and legal acumen of Democratic judicial nominees and 2) effective acceptance of the Democrats’ claimed prerogative to “Bork” any Republican court nominee, no matter how impeccably credentialed, no matter their obvious integrity.

.. Republicans have defeated Democratic nominees, but they never Bork them. They never demagogue Democratic nominees as sex offenders, racists, or homophobes. There are no “Spartacus” moments.

.. Even when Republicans are put off by a Democratic nominee’s progressive activism, they seem apologetic, quick to concede that the progressive in question adheres to a mainstream constitutional philosophy — one that is championed by leading American law schools and bar associations because it effectively rewrites the Constitution to promote progressive pieties.

.. Old GOP hands then typically vote “aye” while mumbling something about bipartisanship and some “presumption” that the president is entitled to have his nominees confirmed (a grant of deference that Democrats do not reciprocate, and that actually applies only to offices in the executive branch that exercise the president’s own power, not to slots in the independent judicial branch).

Even in 2016, when Republicans blocked Merrick Garland, President Obama’s late-term gambit to fill the vacancy created by the titanic Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, there was no besmirching of Judge Garland’s character. It was pure political calculation and exactly what Democrats would have done if roles had been reversed (minus the character assassination).

.. In substance, she “deliberately misled and deceived” her fellow senators, with the “effect of impeding discovery of evidence” relevant to the performance of their constitutional duties. No one should know better than Feinstein herself that such deceptive and obstructive conduct, widely regarded as “unacceptable,” “fully deserves censure,” so that “future generations of Americans . . . know that such behavior is not only unacceptable but also bears grave consequences,” bringing “shame and dishonor” to the person guilty of it and to the office that person holds, who has “violated the trust of the American people.” These quoted words all come from the resolution of censure Feinstein herself introduced concerning President Bill Clinton’s behavior in connection with his sex scandal. She can hardly be heard to complain if she is held to the same standard.

Comparison with other past censure cases only makes Feinstein’s situation look worse. The last three senators censured, Thomas Dodd, Herman Talmadge, and Dave Durenberger, were all condemned for financial hanky-panky: converting campaign contributions to personal use and the like. They were all found to have brought the Senate into “dishonor and disrepute” even though nothing they had done implicated the Senate’s performance of its constitutional duties. Feinstein, in sharpest contrast, sought to keep her committee from timely and properly investigating an apparently serious charge of misconduct, and is still doing so, even in the face of criticism from all (or most) quarters.

 

How America’s Supreme Court became so politicised

citing Scalia’s belief that “in the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American.”

.. Another worry about the new court is that it may be too deferential to executive power. Mr Kavanaugh, who spent years working for the independent counsel’s team that investigated Bill Clinton in the mid 1990s, later decided such investigations impinged unreasonably on a president’s time and attention. During a panel discussion in 1998 he indicated that the law protects a sitting president from indictment. In a 2009 law-review article, he proposed that Congress pass a law protecting presidents from criminal investigations and civil suits while they were in office.

.. Eric Segall of Georgia State University, the author of a forthcoming book on originalism, worry that originalist language is often used by justices to uphold positions quite at odds with the philosophy’s seemingly hands-off tenets. “Justices use the rhetoric of originalism to mask political judgment,” Mr Segall says. Past proponents of originalism argued that courts should strike down laws only in the case of clear textual error. Today, argues Mr Segall, proponents of originalism want to “shrink the federal government and deregulate the economy, but there is no reasonable originalist argument for that kind of strong judicial interference with our political system.”

.. Mr Roberts who has four justices to his left and four to his right. Though he is without doubt a man of the right, he also evinces caution and a sense of constitutional propriety. He voted twice with the court’s liberal bloc to uphold Mr Obama’s Affordable Care Act, in part, perhaps, because he felt that the court should not throw out a major piece of legislation for which the president had a clear mandate.

..  Two of the court’s liberals are in their eighties; if one dies, or is forced by ill health to retire, before the next election, and Mr Trump were to fill the void, the median position might well move rightward to Mr Gorsuch, hardening the court’s ideological tenor.

.. Brian Fallon, chief spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, recently started Demand Justice, a court-focused pressure group. He wants his party to be as ruthless and court-focused as the Republicans have been. Democrats, he says, need to “get over the idea that the courts are anything other than a place where a power struggle is taking place.” If another seat does come up soon, and if the Democrats retake the Senate in this year’s elections, they will probably stonewall Mr Trump’s nominee, just as Mr McConnell did Mr Obama’s.

.. With ample justification, Democrats want revenge for the theft of Mr Garland’s seat, and how it paved the way for Mr Trump’s ascent to the White House. Faced with a conservative court that could frustrate their ambitions for decades, some have begun whispering about court packing—adding justices to the court should they retake Congress and the White House. No doubt that will outrage Republicans, and lead them to do the same the next time power swings back. Both sides will prize ideological purity over competence and independence of mind.

Down this path lies the dark day when another part of the government takes the decisive, perhaps irretrievable, step of ignoring a Supreme Court ruling. And at that point the constitution’s checks and balances come tumbling down.

 

The Daily 202: Kavanaugh hearing offers an ‘unprecedented’ display of the Senate’s institutional decline

— Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said what was truly “unprecedented” was when Democrats blocked Robert Bork’s confirmation back in 1987. “This is my 15th Supreme Court confirmation hearing since I joined the committee in 1981,” said the Iowa Republican. “Thirty-one-years ago, during my fourth Supreme Court confirmation hearing, liberal outside groups and their Senate allies engaged in an unprecedented smear campaign against Judge Robert Bork.”

Bork, as the solicitor general, conspired with Richard Nixon in 1973 to carry out the “Saturday Night Massacre” and fire Archibald Cox in a scheme to obstruct the special prosecutor’s investigation into the Watergate affair. He did so after then-attorney general Elliot Richardson and deputy attorney general William Ruckelshaus had resigned rather than do so. Bork’s nomination to the high court went down 42 to 58 on the Senate floor, with six Republicans joining every Democrat in opposition. Ronald Reagan subsequently nominated Anthony Kennedy as a more moderate replacement.

.. — Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said what was truly “unprecedented” was when Democrats blocked Robert Bork’s confirmation back in 1987. “This is my 15th Supreme Court confirmation hearing since I joined the committee in 1981,” said the Iowa Republican. “Thirty-one-years ago, during my fourth Supreme Court confirmation hearing, liberal outside groups and their Senate allies engaged in an unprecedented smear campaign against Judge Robert Bork.”

Bork, as the solicitor general, conspired with Richard Nixon in 1973 to carry out the “Saturday Night Massacre” and fire Archibald Cox in a scheme to obstruct the special prosecutor’s investigation into the Watergate affair. He did so after then-attorney general Elliot Richardson and deputy attorney general William Ruckelshaus had resigned rather than do so. Bork’s nomination to the high court went down 42 to 58 on the Senate floor, with six Republicans joining every Democrat in opposition. Ronald Reagan subsequently nominated Anthony Kennedy as a more moderate replacement.

.. Kavanaugh is now up for this seat, which Grassley still resents did not go to Bork. The chairman read at length from an op-ed that ran over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal by conservative legal blogger Mark Pulliam. “By confirming Judge Kavanaugh,” Pulliam wrote, “the Senate can go some way toward atoning for its shameful treatment of Justice Robert Bork 31 years ago.”

.. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), whose father was Reagan’s solicitor general, also complained about Bork being blocked during his opening statement. “It remains something of a rock-bottom moment for the Senate and for the Senate Judiciary Committee,” he said.

.. The chorus of reverent Republican paeans to Bork, whose legacy will always be tainted by his role as the hatchet man in the “Saturday Night Massacre,” were particularly striking against the backdrop of Democratic charges that Kavanaugh would give legal air cover to Trump in the plausible scenario that he moves against Bob Mueller, as well as the continuing unwillingness of congressional Republicans to pass legislation that would safeguard the special counsel.

.. In this vein, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) argued that holding the hearing is “unprecedented … because [Trump] is an unindicted co-conspirator who has nominated a potential justice who will cast the swing vote on issues relating to his possible criminal culpability, including whether he is required to obey a subpoena or to appear before a grand jury, whether he is required to testify in a prosecution of his friends or associates or other officials in his administration and whether in fact he is required to stand trial if he is indicted while he is president.”

.. — Introducing himself to the committee as reasonable and collegial, Kavanaugh described Merrick Garland as a personal “friend” and a “superb” chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where they have served together for more than a decade. “I am proud of that body of work and I stand behind it,” Kavanaugh said.

Perhaps this was meant as an olive branch, but Democrats took it as trolling. Garland, after all, was Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia in 2016, and Senate Republicans refused to give him a hearing or otherwise consider his nomination. As much as anything else, the GOP’s treatment of Garland two years ago destroyed the last vestiges of comity in the judicial nominations process. Three Democrats cited him during the hearing on Tuesday to call for a postponement.

Kavanaugh’s comment about Garland wasn’t the only thing that rubbed salt in open wounds. Tuesday’s hearing featured sometimes naked displays of brute political force by a party that has just a one-seat majority in the Senate.

.. “You had a chance, and you lost,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told the Democrats. “If you want to pick judges from your way of thinking, then you better win an election.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) claimed that the GOP’s refusal to allow a hearing for Garland actually gives Gorsuch and Kavanaugh “super legitimacy” because voters in 2016 knew that the next president would get to pick at least one justice.By releasing a list of the judges he’d pick from, Cruz said, Trump provided “unprecedented transparency.”

“This is an attempt by the Democrats to relitigate the 2016 presidential election,” Cruz continued.

To be sure, when it looked like Hillary Clinton was probably going to win, Cruz argued that Republicans should consider keeping the seat vacant for her entire term.

.. these same GOP members have also been going to the White House complex for several weeks to participate in mock confirmation hearings with Kavanaugh.

They’ve pretended to be Democratic senators in these moot sessions and coached Kavanaugh on how to deflect expected inquiries from the other side.

.. “It’s mostly a sham,” said Whitehouse. “You know the game,” the senator told Kavanaugh, who looked back at him stone-faced. “In the Bush White House, you coached judicial nominees to just tell senators that they have a commitment to follow Supreme Court precedent, that they will adhere to statutory text and that they have no ideological agenda. Fairy tales!”

.. Last year, McConnell went “nuclear” — in the parlance of the Senate — by changing the rules of the body to allow Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed by a simple majority — instead of 60 votes. Harry Reid shortsightedly changed the rules four years earlier to allow lower-court nominees to be confirmed this way, but he said at the time that the Supreme Court process should stay sacrosanct.

.. Going nuclear means that presidents are more likely to pick ideological nominees when their party controls the Senate, whether from the right or the left, because they no longer need any members of the other party to cross over to secure 60 votes. Kavanaugh can be muscled onto the court with only GOP votes, which makes his confirmation a sort of fait accompli. He does not need to make concessions or agree to recuse himself from certain cases.

.. The result of the rule changes is a Senate that’s become more majoritarian. Members of the minority have fewer prerogatives. This is a recipe for institutional decay. No one who watched yesterday’s circus could credibly call the Senate the world’s greatest deliberative body. It certainly isn’t what James Madison had in mind when he designed the upper chamber as a cooling saucer on the passions of the people’s representatives in the House. Republicans will probably come to regret the rule changes when they again, inevitably, find themselves in the minority and Democrats treat them as they’re now being treated. That probably won’t happen next year, but perhaps in 2021 or 2023.

.. But there’s no going back now. Why would Democrats tie their hands and hold their nominees in the future to a higher standard than Republicans have held theirs? Neither party’s base would tolerate unilateral disarmament.

.. “It was a poisonous session, as acrimonious as I have witnessed since sitting in the committee’s hearing room for the grilling of Anita Hill during the second round of the Clarence Thomas hearings,” writes columnist Ruth Marcus.“And while no dispute over documents, however impassioned, can rival the Hill-Thomas encounter, the Republican majority’s handling of this issue will be even more dangerous for the future of the Senate’s ability to conduct its constitutional duty of advice and consent.
 “Kavanaugh may not become the most conservative member of the court, but his background suggests he would be the most partisan,” Dana Milbank explains in today’s paper. “Democrats say the committee received only 7 percent of Kavanaugh’s White House documents — and some of those have been altered, while half cannot be discussed publicly. Why? They would likely reinforce what is already known about Kavanaugh as a nakedly partisan appointment, solidifying the court’s transition from a deliberative body to what is effectively another political branch. …
..  ‘a cynical view of Kavanaugh’s actions would be that he bases his legal reasoning on his conservative views — that he supports broad powers for a Republican president and circumscribed powers for a Democratic president.’ What has emerged about Kavanaugh — particularly his vulgar plan to humiliate [Bill] Clinton — reinforces that cynical view. This is why Kavanaugh’s defenders don’t want the documents to come out.”