Tuesday October 20th, 2020 5:01AM

McConnell's legacy: Wielding majority power to reshape court

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s legacy time for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Fulfilling the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the fall election is as much about McConnell’s goal of securing a conservative majority on the court for decades to come as it is about confirming President Donald Trump’s upcoming nominee.

There’s no guarantee the Kentucky Republican will succeed. He is about to move ahead with a jarring and politically risky strategy to try to bend his majority in the Senate to accomplish the remarkable. If it works, he will have ushered three justices to the court in four years, a historic feat.

For better or worse, this will be how McConnell’s tenure as a Senate leader will be measured.

“Sen. McConnell already has played a huge role in shaping the Supreme Court for decades to come,” said Edwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkley School of Law. “A third confirmation, especially under these circumstances, would truly make this the McConnell Court for a long time to come.”

The path for how, exactly, McConnell will make this happen is being set swiftly in Washington. Many expect Trump to name his nominee in a matter of days and the Senate to start the confirmation process — condensing a typically monthslong endeavor into a matter of weeks.

Voting in the Senate could happen before the election or it could spill into the lame-duck period after the Nov. 3 vote. Either strategy is a political calculation for McConnell more than a substantive one.

For the longest serving Republican Senate leader in history, the course ahead depends on what is best for the handful of GOP senators who face difficult reelections in November and could make or break McConnell's slim majority. Sen. Susan Collins in Maine wants no vote before the election. Others want swift confirmation.

Conservative voters are expected to be energized by the prospect of a right-leaning court, and McConnell must weigh whether the endangered senators risk alienating them if they shy from a confirmation vote. Or, in their swing states, would the senators like Cory Gardner up for reelection in Colorado fare worse if they rushed into a vote, upsetting centrist and independent voters who prefer to stick to Senate norms?

For now, McConnell is eager to push ahead, willing to leave behind those senators whose votes he can afford to lose. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, signaled hours before Ginsburg's death that it's too close to the election to vote on a confirmation. She and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, have been critical of Trump and could be votes against the nominee.

With a narrow 53-seat majority in the 100-member Senate, McConnell can lose three senators and still rely on Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie vote. Republicans think the risks of pushing ahead are worth it.

“McConnell's got to thread the needle here, and I have no doubt he will," said Mike Davis, a former chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee. He now runs an outside advocacy group for conservative judges and advises Republican senators.

McConnell never set out to remake the Supreme Court as he has done during the Trump era.

But the death of Justice Antonin Scalia hours before one of the early-state presidential debates in February 2016 put McConnell on a course that will define his decades-long career.

McConnell stunned Washington by announcing the Senate would wait for the next president, after the November 2016 election, to choose Scalia’s replacement, blocking then-President Barack Obama’s choice of Judge Merrick Garland.

McConnell had no rule or precedent to fall back on, but he had a majority so he barreled ahead.

Once Trump became president, McConnell shocked Washington again by changing Senate rules to allow for simple confirmation, by 51 votes, rather than the 60 traditionally needed to advance a nominee. First the Senate confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch in 2017. Then, with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, senators confirmed Judge Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 after dramatic hearings and allegations that the nominee had sexually assaulted women.

Now McConnell, again through an exercise in majority power, is saying that the standard he set in 2016 no longer applies because his party also controls the White House.

Hypocrisy, say Democrats. But McConnell is not likely be wounded as he rushes toward another confirmation.

Former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the onetime majority leader who tangled fiercely with McConnell, was the first to change the Senate's voting threshold on lower-level nominees out of Obama-era frustration with GOP blockades. Reid warned Republican senators not to follow their leader down this path.

“If Republicans attempt to force yet another nominee onto the Supreme Court against the will of the American people, then they risk delegitimizing themselves and their party even more,” Reid said. He warned it would “further tear our country apart.”

But McConnell left no doubt where this was headed.

Absent a robust legislative agenda aligned with Trump, McConnell set out on the Senate’s other main role — confirmations. Along with the two Supreme Court justices, he has installed more than 200 federal appellate and trial court judges in the Trump era.

“Well, you don’t get to write your own legacy,” he said during an AP Newsmakers interview in 2018. "But I will say that what we’re doing in the area of the court, I think, is the most important thing we’re doing.

Asked in February by Fox News how he would approach a high court vacancy, now that it was again an election year, he showed no hesitancy.

“Yeah, we would fill it,” McConnell said.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Online Supreme Court News, AP Elections, General Election News
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
McConnell's legacy: Wielding majority power to reshape court
It’s legacy time for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
1:43PM ( 17 minutes ago )
The Latest: Italy records more than 1,600 new virus cases
The Italian health ministry reported another 1,638 new cases of coronavirus and 24 deaths
1:34PM ( 26 minutes ago )
Rights group: More than 200 women detained at Minsk protest
Police in the capital of Belarus have cracked down sharply on a women's protest march demanding the authoritarian president's resignation
1:33PM ( 27 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Is 8 enough? Court vacancy could roil possible election case
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death has left the Supreme Court shorthanded during a polarizing presidential campaign
12:47PM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump, Biden absorb news of Ginsburg death on the fly
Minutes into yet another Donald Trump campaign rally, this one in Minnesota, the world got word that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died
11:54AM ( 2 hours ago )
Trump to Senate: Vote 'without delay' on his high court pick
President Donald Trump is urging the Republican-run Senate to consider “without delay” his upcoming nomination to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just six weeks before the election
11:03AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Moroccans protest Arab nations normalizing ties with Israel
Moroccans staged a protest outside parliament to denounce Arab countries’ agreements to normalize ties with Israel
4:35AM ( 9 hours ago )
Stopgap bill to prevent shutdown held up over farm funding
Efforts to fashion a temporary spending bill needed to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month have run aground amid a fight over farm bailout funding that’s a key priority of President Donald Trump and Capitol Hill Republicans
1:29AM ( 12 hours ago )
The Latest: Trump orders flags at half-staff for Ginsburg
President Donald Trump has issued a proclamation directing that flags at the White House and all public buildings and grounds and military facilities be flown at half-staff until the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is interred
1:23AM ( 12 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Ginsburg, a feminist icon memorialized as the Notorious RBG
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday at age 87, repeatedly showed a steely resilience in the face of personal loss and health problems
1:39AM ( 12 hours ago )
The Latest: Biden says 2020 winner should pick RBG successor
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden says the winner of the November election should pick a successor to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
10:17PM ( 15 hours ago )
The Latest: Cruz urges Trump to nominate RBG successor soon
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz says President Donald Trump should nominate a successor to the late liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg next week
10:02PM ( 15 hours ago )
AP Online Supreme Court News
Thai protesters rally to push demands for democratic reforms
Thousands of demonstrators have defied police warnings and occupied a historic field in Thailand’s capital to support the demands of a student-led protest movement for new elections and reform of the monarchy
11:59AM ( 2 hours ago )
Q&A: What does banning TikTok and WeChat mean for users?
The U.S. government is cracking down on the Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat, starting by barring them from app stores on Sunday
10:45AM ( 3 hours ago )
Ethiopia charges prominent opposition figure with terrorism
Ethiopia has charged its most prominent opposition figure, Jawar Mohammed, and 23 others with terrorism-related offenses and other crimes that could bring life in prison
10:19AM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Elections
AP Exclusive: Pandemic shrinking Europe's monitor of US vote
The coronavirus pandemic has led Europe’s largest security organization to drastically scale back plans to send as many as 500 observers to the U.S. to monitor the Nov. 3 presidential election
3:31PM ( 22 hours ago )
Assange lawyer says Trump offered deal to avoid extradition
A lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has told a London court that her client was indirectly offered a “win-win” deal by President Donald Trump that would see him avoid extradition to the U.S. if he revealed the source of a leak of documents from the Democratic Party ahead of the 2016 election
2:07PM ( 23 hours ago )
Ohio limit of 1 ballot drop box per county blocked, appealed
An Ohio judge has temporarily blocked the Republican secretary of state’s order limiting counties to one ballot drop box
2:03PM ( 23 hours ago )
General Election News
The Latest: Italy records more than 1,600 new virus cases
The Italian health ministry reported another 1,638 new cases of coronavirus and 24 deaths
1:34PM ( 27 minutes ago )
Rights group: More than 200 women detained at Minsk protest
Police in the capital of Belarus have cracked down sharply on a women's protest march demanding the authoritarian president's resignation
1:33PM ( 27 minutes ago )
Ginsburg's death draws big surge of donations to Democrats
Democrats raised more than $31 million in the hours after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death
1:19PM ( 41 minutes ago )
Pogacar crushes Roglic to seal Tour de France title
In an incredible climax to the Tour de France, Tadej Pogacar crushed fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic in the last stage before the finish in Paris
1:19PM ( 41 minutes ago )
Bale back at Tottenham, Reguilón also joins from Real Madrid
Gareth Bale has completed his return to Tottenham from Real Madrid while defender Sergio Reguilón also has signed for the Premier League club from the Spanish champions
1:10PM ( 50 minutes ago )