In every life there comes a moment of “clarity,” in which a decision must be made to stand up and do the right thing, or fold and take the easy way out. For Senate Republicans, that moment is staring them in the face. If they cannot muster 50 votes to confirm a Supreme Court nominee submitted by President Donald Trump, the “Grand Old Party” will no longer deserve being considered a “major” political party; it will have proved itself unworthy of the heritage bequeathed them by such true leaders as Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.
Far more important than the political fallout of such cowardice by a handful of GOP senators, however, will be the long-term damage to one of the most enduring and vital institutions undergirding our government – the Supreme Court of the United States, against which the Democrats have declared open warfare. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi no longer even pretend to camouflage what their intentions are.
Should the Democrats win a majority in the Senate and also defeat Trump in the coming election, they will at once start the legislative process to expand the number of justices on the High Court (which has remained at nine for a century and a half). They also will move to change the rules according to which future judicial confirmations will be handled in the Senate. If Democrats succeed in these measures, they will all-but-guarantee the Republican Party will never again be able to ensure a “conservative” majority on the Court.
The Democrat's plan to pack the Court will be solidified if they are successful in achieving another of their publicly avowed goals, which is to expand the size of the Senate from 100 (where it has been since Hawaii was admitted in 1959) to 102 by granting statehood to the District of Columbia; or even 104 if Puerto Rico were to be admitted.
Both these goals – increasing the size of the Supreme Court bench and increasing the size of the Senate – require only legislation, not a constitutional amendment.
As Schumer, Pelosi and their charges in both houses of Congress openly plot their assault on the Supreme Court and on long-standing Senate procedures, some Republicans wring their hands and fret about whether standing up and voting to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court this year could be considered inconsistent with something they might have said two or four years ago. This brings to mind the adage, “Nero fiddled as Rome burned.” And America is burning, literally and figuratively.
In “normal” times, calls for diplomacy and “statesmanship” might be appropriate factors for a senator to weigh in deciding whether to vote for a judicial nominee just weeks before a national election. We are, however, in anything but “normal” times. Our country is being torn by violence in cities from coast-to-coast and north-to-south. Government institutions at all levels are under attack even by those inside government.
Republican senators must come to fully grasp the gravity of the situation facing them, and to recognize the deeply destructive nature of what the Democrats will do if the GOP caves on this Supreme Court decision. Meeting this challenge requires decisive and aggressive steps, even if it means taking off the kid gloves so cherished by many in the GOP.
When was the last time Schumer, whose preferred accoutrement is brass knuckles, donned kid gloves in opposing a Republican initiative, especially on a matter as consequential as filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court? Still there are congressional Republicans who worry that failure to always play by the strictest Marquis of Queensbury rules will tarnish their “nice guy” image.
The choice today for Republicans should be an easy one -- either recognize the ruthlessness of the enemy they face and meet the challenge head-on by confirming Trump’s Supreme Court nominee...or do nothing.
There is an apt historic parallel for the situation facing Senate Republicans. They can choose either to follow the path set forth by Winston Churchill and gird for the battle already joined or, as did Churchill’s predecessor Neville Chamberlain, wave a piece of paper and claim a hollow “peace in our time.” The stakes really are that high.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7 District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.