This morning on NPR, Senator Orrin Hatch shamed himself on National Public Radio. A senator for 39 years, he unveiled the most loopy Republican explanation yet for denying the President’s Supreme Court nomination a hearing or a vote.
Hatch says it is ironclad precedent that “a term-limited president” does not get to fill a vacancy on the court in his last year “once voting has started” for his successor. The people need to pick a new president, he said. Why they only get to do this one year out of four (or twice in eight), Hatch did not explain. He was warming to his real reason, which was that Senate Democrats “engaged in the politics of personal destruction” 29 years ago, denying Robert Bork confirmation, and 25 years ago, not denying Clarence Thomas nomination. So now they ought to expect the same, he said.
Asked if he would accept nomination to the Court since his name is floating around DC as inexplicably as when he ran for President in 2000, Hatch chuckled and said he didn’t expect President Obama would nominate a “mainstream” candidate like himself or Judge Frank Easterbrook, whom he said Justice Scalia wanted to be his successor.
Here’s where the discussion descends into silent dog whistle land. Easterbrook is a University of Chicago, Richard Posner-style conservative who shares Justice Scalia’s frilly writing style and ill-concealed scorn for people he believes less intelligent than he- which includes most of the planet’s inhabitants. Easterbrook was Robert Bork’s deputy solicitor general in the Saturday Night Massacre days of Watergate, and was nominated to the Court of Appeals by Ronald Reagan at the age of 38.
Easterbrook’s nomination came in August 1984, two and a half months before voting started for his successor, which as we all know, was himself. The Republican-controlled Senate, busy running to hold its majority, put off the nomination until early 1985. They were hampered, too, by the American Bar Association, which had a committee that reviewed nominees for the federal bench; it found Easterbrook’s age and complete lack of judicial experience disqualified him. The snub provided President George W. Bush the pretext for refusing to submit names to the ABA when he became president in 2001.
In any event, Judge Easterbrook turns 68 this year- way too old to hold the seat long. Though Hatch, asked about his own prospects said, at 82, he wouldn’t want the job. The Democrats would be praying for him to die fast, he chuckled. But if he did get the job, he quickly added- in DC you never close a door entirely, except on the Supreme Court nomination of a term-limited president once voting has started for his successor when you are a non-term-limited grandee of the Senate who looked in the mirror sixteen years ago and saw a president looking back- “I’d live twenty years, just to spite them.”
Oh, and the exception to Hatch’s rule? 1916. President Woodrow Wilson nominated, and saw confirmed, a replacement for Justice Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes resigned in June 1916 to accept the Republican nomination for President, to run against Wilson. Hughes promised to keep America out of World War I and to roll back the executive overreach of the evil progressive Wilson.
So that confirmation was OK. Things are wayyy too partisan to let that happen now.
Keep it classy, Senator.