WASHINGTON — When Speaker Nancy Pelosi refers to the Supreme Court as the “Trump-McConnell” court, she doesn’t mean it as a compliment. Senator Mitch McConnell will consider it one anyway.
“I want to thank her for confirming the obvious,” Kentucky Republican and minority leader Mr. McConnell said in an interview.
McConnell is undeniably the lead architect—if not the lead architect—of the conservative court that has shaken the nation over the past week with a string of rulings on abortion, guns and religion—a trifecta of burning cultural issues.
While much of the public shuddered at the decisions and at the prospect of more to come in the years to come, Mr McConnell, a great admirer of Judge Antonin Scalia, saw the culmination of personal pressure to reform the court to the image of the conservative judicial icon. Mr McConnell said his goal had been “to take us back to where Scalia would have taken us to a textual, original majority. And we have that for the first time in history.”
That historic achievement had a price: Donald J. Trump’s embrace. Mr. McConnell and his fellow Republicans may have had their doubts about Mr. Trump, but they were more than willing to put aside any caveats — and Senate graciousness — in diligently pursuing a trustworthy conservative court. Mr Trump, however problematic, was a means to their end.
Now Mr. Trump has been removed from office, but the court he formed remains a bulwark against progressive initiatives on topics such as climate change, arms control, electioneering and campaign finance – all areas of great concern to Mr McConnell and those in which public opinion often diverges sharply from his own. Even if legislation Republicans don’t like somehow escapes Congress, they can now confidently look to the courts to make sure.
Senate Republicans didn’t have to take the politically risky move of banning abortions; the court settled the matter for them.
If all that seems like a perverse outcome in a democracy — a court that imposes minority-backed policies on the majority of the country — Mr. McConnell thinks that’s how it should be.
“The Supreme Court exists to protect unpopular positions,” he said. “Virtually everything in the Constitution is intended to defend the minority against the majority. It is not a majority body in the sense that it must follow public opinion. That’s our job.”
The situation has infuriated Democrats, as the series of momentous statements served as a bitter reminder of the powerful tactics Mr. McConnell used to install three conservatives on the Supreme Court — and scores more in the lower courts — during Mr. Trump’s tenure. , a man with whom Mr. McConnell has since severed ties.
“The fact is that Merrick Garland should be on the Supreme Court and Amy Coney Barrett shouldn’t be, and wouldn’t be without Mitch McConnell’s blatant manipulation of the trial,” said Connecticut Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal.
It was the death of Justice Scalia in 2016 that opened the door to Mr. McConnell’s norm-breaking decision to block Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick B. Garland for nearly a year. It wasn’t part of the original plan, but the vacant court hearing caused what Mr. McConnell described it as an “unexpected” electoral bounce for Mr. Trump, which helped him win the presidency.
Through the concerted efforts of Mr. McConnell and Donald F. McGahn II, the original White House counsel for Mr. Trump, three Trump-nominated judges were subsequently pushed to court, culminating in Judge Barrett’s confirmation just days away. before Mr Trump lost the 2020 election.
mr. McConnell broke Senate traditions to fill the seats. He blocked Judge Garland on the grounds that a Supreme Court opening should not be filled in a presidential election year, but only to turn around four years later and rush Judge Barrett to court with an impending election.
“The inconsistency, the hypocrisy,” Mrs. Pelosi said last week as she railed against the court and Mr McConnell’s machinations. “I don’t respect that process.”
mr. McConnell insists he didn’t do anything inappropriate.
“That’s not a hoax,” he said of his decision to decline a Judge Garland hearing. “Sometimes we trade on nominations and sometimes we don’t. This happens to be one of the bigger ones. But it is not at all unusual for the Senate not to approve nominations.”
And, he noted, voters had a chance to make their own judgments about his tactics in 2016.
“That decision was there in the 2016 election for the American people to make a decision about whether they thought it was appropriate,” he said. “And in the end they chose someone to fill the vacancy with someone the Democrats didn’t like.”
Despite Mr McConnell’s satisfaction with the court’s decisions, a significant public response to the cases could ultimately deprive him of a chance to return as majority leader next year if the uproar allows Democrats to hold on to their majority. Mr McConnell admits the court and its divisive rulings in November could be a factor.
“I’m confident this will be a problem in some campaigns, maybe not in others,” he said, adding that he expects the election to be mostly about inflation, crime, immigration and President Biden’s popularity, even if the Democrats are trying to focus on the court and its rulings.
“I’m sure they’ll try to talk it over somewhere else, but it’s going to be a referendum on the president’s approval rating, which is in the tank, and I think it’s hard for me to see how he turns that around.” between now and November,” he said.
Mr McConnell had been eyeing the election by enacting the bipartisan gun control bill the president signed into law on Saturday, acknowledging after the vote that he hoped it could help Republicans with suburban voters who support the party in recent elections. have left. Again, his party could reap the political rewards after the court moves in the opposite direction from where polls show the American public.
Senators barely got a chance to celebrate their rare bipartisan feat before the Supreme Court decided to repeal New York’s hidden carry law, which quickly overshadowed the narrow bill and raised questions about the prospects of continuing the dual existence.
“I’m angry at everyone who pushed their way through this conservative majority,” said Delaware Democrat Sen. Chris Coons, who said he was concerned about the prospect of the court curtailing government rules that protect Americans. “We are entering a difficult time and a period of great instability.”
Ultimately, Mr McConnell believes he has fostered an advance of judges at all levels who will focus on a clear reading of the law and the Constitution that, in the case of abortion, will return decision-making to where he believes it is all belonged. by.
“The American people will now be able to speak out on this sensitive issue,” he said, “and the democratic process will pay off.”