Earlier this week, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn issued a threat to anyone who might accept President Obama’s nomination to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. By the time Senate Republicans are finished with such a nominee, Cornyn warned, that person “will bear some resemblance to a piñata.”
“What I don’t understand is how someone who actually wants to be confirmed to the Supreme Court would actually allow themselves to be used by the administration in a political fight that’s going to last from now until the end of the year,” Cornyn said. “Because there is no guarantee, certainly, after that time they’re going to look as good as they did going in.”
Note that Cornyn’s threat was a blanket threat, issued against all potential nominees regardless of qualification. He intimated pretty clearly that anyone accepting Obama’s offer would be trashed and dragged through the mud.
In other words, “Helluva good reputation you have there; it would be a shame if anything were to happen to it.” Charming.
Presumably, Cornyn’s threat applies to Judge Sri Srinivasan, who now sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Just three years ago, after vetting him and considering his qualifications, character and intellect, the Senate voted to confirm Srinivasan to that post by a vote of 97-0. Cornyn voted for him; Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz voted for him. Srinivasan had earned that bipartisan support in part by working in the U.S. Solicitor General’s office under Presidents Bush and Obama, and top Republican legal figures such as Kenneth Starr and Paul Clement signed a letter endorsing Srinivasan.
Now that very same Senate threatens to beat him like a pinata.
The threat also would appear to apply to Jane Kelly, whom the Senate confirmed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals with a vote of 98-0. Kelly hails from Iowa, the same state as Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley. Three years ago, on the floor of the Senate, Grassley extolled the merits of Kelly to his colleagues, reading a letter from a Republican judge in Iowa describing Kelly as “a forthright woman of high integrity and honest character” with “exceptionally keen intellect”.
That’s the woman they threaten to treat as a pinata.
It will come as no surprise that Cornyn and other GOP senators have attempted to justify their thuggish behavior by raising the name of Robert Bork, a Supreme Court nominee whom the Senate considered and ultimately rejected almost 30 years ago. Even though six Republicans had joined in rejecting Bork as too extreme, the party has elevated him to permanent martyr status and still takes great pleasure in nursing resentment over his fate.
In crafting that mythology, however, they always write out the part about Bork being rejected for reasons that were specific to Bork. By voting 42-58 against him, the Senate wasn’t acting out some political vendetta against the president at the time, who happened to be Ronald Reagan; it judged and rejected Bork on his own merits, concluding that Bork was unqualified based on his poor judicial temperament and extreme legal philosophy.
If you doubt that, look at the record: Before rejecting Bork, the Senate had voted unanimously — 98-0 — to confirm a Reagan nominee by the name of Antonin Scalia, probably the most conservative jurist in the modern era. The Senate also voted unanimously — 97-0 — to confirm the Reagan nominee following Bork, now-Justice Anthony Kennedy. Back then, the Senate didn’t refuse to do its constitutional duty to advise and consent; it didn’t issue a blanket rejection of all Reagan nominees, regardless of qualification. It certainly didn’t try to intimidate potential nominees to our nation’s highest court by threatening them with character assassination, sight unseen.
No, that act of thuggishness is on Cornyn and his colleagues.