I will make a confession.  On learning of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of my first reactions was to assume that even Mitch McConnell could not be so boldly hypocritical as to seek to fill her vacancy before the end of 2020.  After all, McConnell back in 2016 blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland on the bogus grounds that no Supreme Court vacancy should be filled any time during a presidential election year.  That was in February—nine months before the presidential election.  Now we’re just six weeks away from it.  Consistency would require McConnell to defer any vote on the court vacancy till after the election, and until the installation of the new president if Trump should lose.  How naïve of me to believe there might be limits to McConnell’s hypocrisy.  He is clearly shameless, not unlike the president he so loyally serves.

But I don’t think McConnell will be successful.  A combination of political opportunism and principle will deter just enough Republican senators–it will only take four–to foil their leader.

Lisa Murkowski was the first to say that she will not vote on the vacancy till after the presidential inauguration in 2021.  A commendable stand on principle.  Susan Collins, in an uphill re-election bid, has a golden opportunity to demonstrate her independence by joining Murkowski.  She would be a fool not to do so, and she is no fool.  I expect we will hear from her very soon.  Other potential opportunistic opposition to McConnell could come from GOP senators in tough re-election campaigns in Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, Montana, and even Georgia and Iowa.

Who else?  Mitt Romney—the only GOP vote for impeachment—comes first to mind.  But there are others.   Chuck Grassley in 2018 said that no court vacancy should be filled in 2020.  I wouldn’t count on him sticking to his word, but who knows?  And then there’s Lamar Alexander, who is retiring.  He is a conservative, of course, but not a fanatic and he has no future in Republican politics, so he could just decide to do the right thing.  There’s also Ben Sasse, who has tangled with Trump over his abuse of presidential power.

So, I count two definite opponents of a court confirmation steamroller—Murkowski and Collins—and one probable, Romney.  We only need one more, out of multiple possibilities motivated either by principle or opportunism.  The probability is that at least that one additional dissenter will emerge.  This time McConnell won’t get his way.


  1. Matt September 19, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    I hope you’re right, but perhaps I’m a bit too cynical regarding the current senate to believe otherwise. Susan Collins seems all too willing to furrow her brow and express “deep concern” with these circumstances before falling in line, just as she did with Kavanaugh.

    My thinking is the Supreme Court isn’t a bridge too far for the Republicans — it’s been the goal all along. McConnell isn’t even trying to engage in mental gymnastics and I don’t see why the others would. I’m definitely worried.

  2. Alan Sachs September 19, 2020 at 5:22 pm

    I wish I were as optimistic as you. Collins will lose her base if she opposes filling the vacancy, and the base may be more important to her in the election than the stray voter who might swing her way because of her “independence.” Same goes for the other Republicans in tight races. They need Trump’s support. Romney is no fan of Trump, and demonstrated some independence in the impeachment proceedings. Nevertheless, Romney is the Senator from Utah, and putting a social conservative on the Court is a high priority of Utah Republicans, many of whom are Mormon. I would be surprised if Romney is willing to buck them.

    McConnell, of course — evil incarnate — will do whatever it takes.

  3. Jeffrey Herrmann September 19, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    The country is in a very sorry state when we have to pray that we can find just four decent senators from a pack of 53.
    We should be able to take it for granted.

  4. Art Schmidt September 20, 2020 at 2:12 am

    Why can’t McConnell schedule Judiciary Committee hearings before November 3, then get an easy majority during the lame duck? He loses McSally, but I think all the rest of his troops are still there, whether they’ve won their races or lost.

    • tonygreco September 20, 2020 at 10:53 am

      My guess is that McConnell will wait till after the election to schedule the actual vote, so as not to force GOP senators in tough re-election battles to take a stand. Then, if/when Biden wins the election, the question will become: are there not four Republican senators who have a minimal respect for democracy? If not, the legitimacy of the court will go in the garbage, and a court-packing plan will be a leading agenda item for the Biden administration.

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