By Drew Matlovsky
Wake up and smell the roses: Merrick Garland isn’t going to be a Supreme Court Justice anytime soon. Hell, he probably won’t even get a vote. Yeah, that’s right. Merrick Garland will not even be offered the pleasure of being rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee, or even the Senate as a whole. Is this incompetency at the highest form of government or simply politics as usual? Well, it’s a little bit of both.
The Republicans control the Senate by a 54-46 majority. This means that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gets to set up, and play by his own rules. It’s basically the equivalent of a schoolyard bully stealing everyone’s toys and deciding who and when someone gets to play with them. Instead of these being Tonka trucks, they’re important votes on nominations for judicial positions, cabinet members, military advisors, and every other power congress has. So you know, not that important. Basically, the Republicans can do a pretty good job mucking up the works if they like to. Don’t give me the argument that Republicans are heartless creatures who take personal pleasure in disrupting the government (that’s Ted Cruz). Democrats have created the same problem for sitting Republican Presidents. When Reagan was in office an appointment opened up for the Supreme Court with two years left in his presidency, the exact same situation Obama is in now. Democrats fought him tooth and nail on his confirmations, turning down two in a matter of weeks. He eventually had to settle on oddball Justice Kennedy, who provided the critical vote for upholding Obamacare and gay marriage. Certainly not a red-blooded conservative by any means.
When a President nominates someone for the Supreme Court, it falls under the purview of the Senate. More specifically, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Who appoints members to the Judiciary Committee you might ask? Good old Mitch McConnell does. All sitting Majority Leaders have this privilege, which in turn becomes their power: picking and choosing who they want to run every single committee. They also tip the scales in favor of their party, so each committee has a majority of their own constituents. This explains why Garland will be refused a vote. It’s political suicide to oppose the Majority Leader on such a high profile issue, and has kept the Republicans in the Judiciary Committee in line. Let’s say the impossible happens, and for some reason several members of said committee have brain hemorrhages and a vote was not only was called for, but actually passed. If one remembers from Schoolhouse Rock, a vote is then presented to the house floor, so all members of the Senate can vote on Garland’s nomination. Even if this miracle happened, the Senate is still controlled by Republicans, which means at least four members would need to ditch the herd, and good ol’ Joe Biden would have to come in as the tie breaker.
If this sounds pretty grim, it is. Mitch McConnell is playing political hardball, and is refusing to cave to Democratic pressure. It’s a tactical choice, and if McConnell lets a vote be scheduled, he would receive equal if not worse pressure from the Tea Party and other grassroots organizations for folding on such a contested issue. Right now the Supreme Court is evenly split: four democrats, four republicans. These are appointments made for life, and a democrat-appointed judge guarantees a liberal court until someone else’s death, which could be a while. Justices live remarkably well beyond the national average; I guess striking down legislation is healthy for the soul.
There is one hope. Since parliamentary procedure is as old and as convoluted as Emperor Palpatine’s wrinkled face, they are always alternatives to the current political status quo in the Senate. Using a rare parliamentary procedure called ‘a motion to discharge,’ Garland’s nomination would be brought to a floor vote. It gets pretty complicated and hairy from here, as McConnell has numerous ways to block this: he can table the vote, or block the motion from even taking place. All of these need at least a majority of 51 to be overturned. Any way this goes, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Merrick Garland. I sure hope he’s not losing any sleep over this.