Would Republicans bend on the next Supreme Court confirmation fight?

Start with Senator Chuck Grassley. Could he become a problem in confirming the next Supreme Court nominee? This might seem like a strange question to ask after the senator's stellar performance as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the confirmation battle of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It all depends on the timing.

The concern over Grassley arose from a recent interview he had with Fox News Channel's Martha MacCallum, The Iowa senator was asked whether he believes the Senate should take up a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee during 2020, when President Trump is up for reelection.

'If I am chairman, they won't take it up,' Grassley said, whose committee is charged with holding hearings on Supreme Court nominees. 'No, because I pledged that 2016, that if the ball's the same as it is.

See the possible problem? If the frail and failing Ruth Bader Ginsburg (85) or the nearly equally ancient Stephen Breyer (80) were to leave the court in late 2019 or 2020, a Trump nominee would be stalled out in the Senate until after the 2020 election. And it's the same if a conservative justice were to suddenly die as befell Antonin  Scalia.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore

On one level, Chuck Grassley is to be commended for keeping his pledge to the opposition party. That is civility in politics. It is rare and certainly unheard of on the Democrat side of the aisle where politics is practiced as a blood sport. But in case like this, it is no way to win the brutal political war the Democrats are waging. Fortunately Mitch McConnell indicates he might be open to confirmation hearings in 2020 if a vacancy on the court arises.

A way to move forward while allowing Grassley to keep in word is for McConnell to remove Grassley from his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. According to the Des Moines Register, Grassley would be amenable to trading his position on the Judiciary Committee to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.  In that case, Lindsey Graham would be the most likely choice to head the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Graham has said if the presidential primaries have started, it would be best to postpone any confirmation hearings until after the 2020 general election.

Of course a lot will happen between now and 2020. But as things stand now, I believe that Graham's position will prevail. So if either Ginsburg or Breyer are entertaining any plans on retiring, that will be the time to do it. It would give them hope that their seat on the Supreme Court might not be filled by an originalist nominated by President Trump. 

I fear that the GOP still has not learned to play the game of politics as ruthlessly as the Democrats do. Although they're getting better, as a collective group, the Republicans still do not yet fully understand the nature of the leftist enemy they face. Pity.

Thomas Lifson adds:

One further consideration is that having one (or more) Supreme Court vacancies at stake in the 2020 presidential election could act as a powerful get-out-the-vote factor for both parties. We know that with one seat at stake in 2016, Trump voters were motivated in enough numbers to bring him victory in key swing states Ohio, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. Moreover it is possible that swing voters who don’t care about abortion might be alienated if the GOP behaved inconsistently with its refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland.

That said, the temptation to protect or solidfy a SCOTUS majority might be too much even for me.

Start with Senator Chuck Grassley. Could he become a problem in confirming the next Supreme Court nominee? This might seem like a strange question to ask after the senator's stellar performance as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the confirmation battle of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It all depends on the timing.

The concern over Grassley arose from a recent interview he had with Fox News Channel's Martha MacCallum, The Iowa senator was asked whether he believes the Senate should take up a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee during 2020, when President Trump is up for reelection.

'If I am chairman, they won't take it up,' Grassley said, whose committee is charged with holding hearings on Supreme Court nominees. 'No, because I pledged that 2016, that if the ball's the same as it is.

See the possible problem? If the frail and failing Ruth Bader Ginsburg (85) or the nearly equally ancient Stephen Breyer (80) were to leave the court in late 2019 or 2020, a Trump nominee would be stalled out in the Senate until after the 2020 election. And it's the same if a conservative justice were to suddenly die as befell Antonin  Scalia.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore

On one level, Chuck Grassley is to be commended for keeping his pledge to the opposition party. That is civility in politics. It is rare and certainly unheard of on the Democrat side of the aisle where politics is practiced as a blood sport. But in case like this, it is no way to win the brutal political war the Democrats are waging. Fortunately Mitch McConnell indicates he might be open to confirmation hearings in 2020 if a vacancy on the court arises.

A way to move forward while allowing Grassley to keep in word is for McConnell to remove Grassley from his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. According to the Des Moines Register, Grassley would be amenable to trading his position on the Judiciary Committee to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.  In that case, Lindsey Graham would be the most likely choice to head the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Graham has said if the presidential primaries have started, it would be best to postpone any confirmation hearings until after the 2020 general election.

Of course a lot will happen between now and 2020. But as things stand now, I believe that Graham's position will prevail. So if either Ginsburg or Breyer are entertaining any plans on retiring, that will be the time to do it. It would give them hope that their seat on the Supreme Court might not be filled by an originalist nominated by President Trump. 

I fear that the GOP still has not learned to play the game of politics as ruthlessly as the Democrats do. Although they're getting better, as a collective group, the Republicans still do not yet fully understand the nature of the leftist enemy they face. Pity.

Thomas Lifson adds:

One further consideration is that having one (or more) Supreme Court vacancies at stake in the 2020 presidential election could act as a powerful get-out-the-vote factor for both parties. We know that with one seat at stake in 2016, Trump voters were motivated in enough numbers to bring him victory in key swing states Ohio, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. Moreover it is possible that swing voters who don’t care about abortion might be alienated if the GOP behaved inconsistently with its refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland.

That said, the temptation to protect or solidfy a SCOTUS majority might be too much even for me.