Presidential frontrunner Joe Biden has a message for Senate Democrats: Block President Trump and the GOP majority from confirming more federal judges through the end of the year. He makes reference to leading Republicans encouraging aging jurists to take 'senior status' or retire, in order to be replaced with younger constitutionalists while conservatives control the process -- which they very well may not starting in January. Some liberals have expressed frustration that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not step down during the Obama presidency, instead of risking Trump replacing her with an ideological balance-shifting successor. Biden said this week that Chuck Schumer and his caucus must prevent Mitch McConnell and his colleagues from further reshaping the judiciary, pending the election:
.@JoeBiden is "very concerned," that @senatemajldr will encourage older judges to retire before Nov.— Molly Nagle (@MollyNagle3) June 11, 2020
"I'm going to urge the Dems in the U.S. Senate to block the ability to have a vote on those judges...we only have 140-some days left to go. We're not going to let that happen."
Here's the problem with his calls for obstruction from upper chamber Democrats: They lack the power to block these votes from happening. They can slow-walk the process a bit, but they can't prevent it from moving forward. Why? Because of the rules change they themselves implemented under Harry Reid, during the Obama years. At the time, then-minority leader McConnell warned Democrats that a party-line vote to nuke the filibuster on nominees would come back to bite them, but the Reid and company ignored the admonition. During the Trump presidency, Republicans have exploited and slightly expanded the Reid Rule to great effect, confirming two Supreme Court justices, as well as nearly 200 circuit and district court judges. This would not have been possible without Senate Democrats' most recent unilateral power grab, the latest in a long series of unprecedented, hyper-partisan escalations. A reminder of some of the relevant history:
Uber-liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was set to alter the make-up of the Court by replacing a significantly more conservative justice, was approved by an overwhelming 96-3 margin [under Clinton]. Even after the ugliness and vitriol of Democrats' treatment of Bork and Thomas, the GOP did not answer in kind. But when President George W. Bush took office in the early 2000's, Senate Democrats decided to push the envelope again. For the first time in history, they filibustered a number of majority-supported Bush nominees to circuit- and district-level courts...[Under Obama], Democrats decided that the deployment of their own tactics against a Democratic president constituted a fresh justification to abolish the very practice they'd pioneered, detonating the "nuclear" option...Democrats single-handedly and unilaterally introduced the concept of judicial filibusters against majority-supported nominees, then proceeded to unilaterally end it, all over the course of about a decade. They started the practice when they were in the minority, then blew it up when they were in the majority.
Joe Biden should know all of this. He was a member of the Senate for decades and served chairman of its judiciary committee. And he was sitting Vice President when Harry Reid, with the White House's blessing, detonated the 'nuclear option' on judicial nominees. Perhaps all of this slipped Biden's mind when he issued his directive for Democrats to magically "block the ability" of additional confirmations over the coming months. Finally, in light of the current debate over criminal justice in America, I'll leave you with this flashback -- which is interesting for both reasons mentioned in the tweet:
These old clips of Biden touting his tough on crime / mass incarceration policies are pretty remarkable to watch now. Also striking is how much his public speaking ability has declined since then. pic.twitter.com/PmGpWs6D1B— Jimmy (@JimmyPrinceton) June 11, 2020