Washington • Let the partisan scrambling commence.
Just hours — and, in some cases, minutes — after President Donald Trump unveiled his pick for the Supreme Court, Republicans and Democrats staked out clear positions on Brett Kavanaugh. He’s either the most brilliant choice for the high court or the most dangerous one.
“The nomination could alter the balance of the court in favor of powerful special interests against working families for a generation,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., declared Tuesday morning.
“I enjoyed listening to the minority leader and disagree with almost everything he said,” countered Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
It’s a modern-day ritual in Washington. Depending on which party holds the White House, Republicans and Democrats form battle lines on any new Supreme Court nominee and stick close to quickly formed talking points.
Hatch has performed this ritual as long as anyone. He’s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and formerly the chairman. He’s played a leading role in the confirmations of every sitting justice, including Anthony Kennedy, whose retirement led to this opening.
Last year, Hatch was one of the most vocal cheerleaders for Trump’s first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, whose confirmation came with a predictably near party-line vote. A year before that, Hatch was one of the most ardent opponents of holding even a confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee. Garland, whom Hatch had previously praised, never got that hearing, and his nomination expired when Obama left office.
Hatch voted against both of Obama’s nominees for the high court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, but in favor of both of President George W. Bush’s nominees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
This likely will be Hatch’s last Supreme Court nomination fight. He’s retiring in January.
On Tuesday, Hatch took to the Senate floor to praise Kavanaugh and blast Democrats such as Schumer for their instant opposition to him. While doing so, the Utah Republican also complimented Schumer, calling him “one of the great senators.”
“He has a job to do, I suppose, and it seems strange that every time a Supreme Court nominee comes from the Republicans, there’s every reason in the world not to confirm that nominee in the eyes of the current Democrats,” Hatch said.
“In the coming weeks, my Democratic colleagues are going to throw everything they have at Judge Kavanaugh,” the senator continued. “We’re going to see Judge Kavanaugh’s opponents twist his words, misrepresent his opinions, and do everything they can to make him into some sort of a monster, judicial monster.”
As expected, Republicans cite Kavanaugh’s long tenure on the bench — he’s spent the past 12 years as a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals — as well as his support for states’ rights and his past decisions that relied on a strict constitutional view.
Democrats say abortion rights could be upended if Kavanaugh is confirmed as the Roe v. Wade decision is likely to come under fire. They also raise the judge’s record in opposing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Schumer would have to corral all Democrats to oppose Kavanaugh and win over a couple of Republicans since the GOP holds 51 of the chamber’s 100 seats. Some moderate Republicans, like Susan Collins of Maine, are targets but some red-state Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia, may end up voting for the nominee.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who held up Garland’s nomination arguing the confirmation should wait until after the presidential election in 2016, said Tuesday that Democrats were signaling opposition before Trump made Kavanaugh’s appointment official.
“Regrettably, a number of our Democratic colleagues could not even wait until the president’s announcement last night before launching attacks,” McConnell said. “This was, in some cases, quite literally a ‘fill in the blank’ opposition. They wrote statements of opposition, only to fill in the name later. Sadly, this is not a new approach for the far-left special interest groups. Last year, Justice Gorsuch met with partisan opposition before the ink was even dry on his nomination.”
Back in 2016, on the day that Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead, McConnell announced that the Senate would not confirm any nominee Obama chose.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” McConnell said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
That was Feb. 13. Obama announced Garland’s nomination March 16.
This instant opposition isn’t the historical norm.
While there have been some partisan fights over the Supreme Court in the past, many justices were confirmed with little or no opposition. Some were even confirmed by a voice vote.
Hatch, in his book “Square Peg: Confessions of a Citizen-Senator,” wrote that during President Bill Clinton’s time in office, he suggested Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer as possible nominees when a vacancy came up. Clinton picked Ginsberg and later Breyer; both were confirmed by large margins.
Hatch voted for both nominees from that Democratic president.