Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has taken the lead in the Senate GOP’s effort to block Judge Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination in the hope that a President Donald Trump will be the one to name the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement.
Grassley’s blockade became even more problematic this week when Trump launched a racist assault against a federal judge who is hearing a fraud case involving his Trump University. Trump claimed that the judge, who was born in Indiana to parents who emigrated from Mexico, had an “inherent conflict of interest” in the case because he is “Mexican” and Trump is “building a wall.” The presumptive GOP presidential nominee later acknowledged that using the same logic, it was “possible” that a Muslim judge should also be disqualified from hearing a case involving him.
Trump’s comments drew widespread condemnation, including from some of his fellow Republicans, but Grassley, apparently, didn’t see the problem. In a conference call with Iowa reporters today, Grassley equated Trump’s comments with Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s famous “wise Latina” remark that became a right-wing flashpoint during her 2009 confirmation hearings:
“I think that you don’t have any more trouble with what Trump said than when Sotomayor said that — when she was found saying in speeches that, quote, ‘A wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male,’” he said. “I don’t hear any criticism of that sort of comment by a justice of the Supreme Court.”
Grassley didn’t pull this comparison out of thin air: The same comparison has been popping up all over the right-wing media.
It’s a flashback to 2009, when conservatives latched on to a speech Sotomayor had given in 2001 in which she disagreed with the idea that a judge isn’t influenced by his or her personal background:
Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. … I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, … there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.
What Sotomayor’s critics often chose to ignore was that she went on to say that while a judge’s personal experience can’t help but influence how they see the world, a good judge tries to look beyond the myopia of personal experience to understand the lives of others:
I … believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. … [Nine] white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.
However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.
Sotomayor later clarified in the face of right-wing criticism: “I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt: I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experience."
It shouldn’t be surprising that Grassley and some of his allies on the Right are reviving the “wise Latina” attack on Sotomayor as they attempt to defend Trump. In fact, Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel are not that different from how the Right attacked Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings, claiming that simply because she had spoken proudly of her Latina heritage and acknowledged that a person’s background can shape how they see the world she would be driven by “identity politics” rather than the law.
Some claimed explicitly, and many others implicitly, that Sotomayor, who had graduated from Princeton and Yale and had served for many years as a federal judge, was not as qualified as a white judge with a similar record. Pat Buchanan, who is now an enthusiastic cheerleader for Trump, was one of those who made the claim explicitly when he wrote that white Americans “pay the price of affirmative action when their sons and daughters are pushed aside to make room for the Sonia Sotomayors.”
We wrote in a report after her confirmation:
Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” remarks were taken out of context to imply that she was some kind of ethnic supremacist, and her ruling in the Ricci affirmative action case was wildly distorted to suggest that she was a judicial activist who lived to use the law as a club against white men. Pundits like Rush Limbaugh and elected officials like Tom Tancredo called her a racist. Pat Buchanan charged her with having a “race-based” approach to justice and having demonstrated “a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males.”
On the first day of Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, columnist Eugene Robinson observed:
Republicans' outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor's musings about how her identity as a "wise Latina" might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any "identity" — black, brown, female, gay, whatever —has to be judged against this supposedly "objective" standard.
Thus it is irrelevant if Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. talks about the impact of his background as the son of Italian immigrants on his rulings — as he did at his confirmation hearings — but unforgivable for Sotomayor to mention that her Puerto Rican family history might be relevant to her work.
This seems to be the attitude of the Trump campaign, whose top operative has said that picking a woman or person of color as a vice presidential nominee would amount to “pandering” and whose list of potential Supreme Court picks were all white and mostly men. According to Trump, it seems, only white men can be unbiased and qualified. And Grassley seems to think that’s just fine.
Since Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley is making sure that the committee he runs completely ignores Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, one might think that he’s using the extra time to at least process the president’s many circuit and district nominees. Not!
While Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s brazen and unprecedented refusal to consider Garland has drawn a great deal of attention, PFAW has long reported on how this obstruction, far from being unique to Garland, is an extension of how the Senate GOP has treated President Obama’s lower court nominees for most of his time in office.
Today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made a tremendous contribution to the national conversation, issuing a new report entitled Going to Extremes: The Supreme Court and Senate Republicans’ Unprecedented Record of Obstruction of President Obama’s Nominees." The senator covers how Republicans have worked hard not to thoughtfully vet both judicial and executive branch nominations, but to slow down their confirmations as much as possible, or block their confirmations altogether.
She uses Senate Republicans’ own statements about the Garland nomination to show the disingenuousness of the rationales for obstruction they present to the public and demonstrates that their obstruction is unprecedented. And with a prosecutor’s efficiency, she makes the powerful case that the GOP has consistently and deliberately slow-walked or blocked altogether the president’s circuit and district court nominees, as well as his executive branch nominees.
Supported with facts and figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, Sen. Warren’s new report is a devastating indictment of a political party that has misused the confirmation process to prevent the executive and judicial branches from functioning effectively to protect consumers and workers, hold large corporations accountable, and protect equality.
As she notes in the report’s conclusion:
From the moment the Supreme Court vacancy arose, Senate Republicans linked arms in an attempt to deny President Obama the full authority of his office in the final year of his presidency. They cynically claimed they wish to “let the people decide,” but the people have already decided. Twice. They elected President Obama in 2008 by nine million votes and re-elected him in 2012 by five million votes. Republicans’ statements over many weeks have made clear that their true interest is what it has been for the past eight years: to block and hinder President Obama at every turn, dragging out or blocking outright the confirmation of nominees across the government and the courts.
As the report shows, the GOP has a shameful record of obstruction going back to President Obama’s first days in office. The unprecedented blockade against Garland is only the apex of a pattern that has gone on for years.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, joined a conference call of anti-abortion activists hosted by the Susan B. Anthony List last night to assure them that he would continue to hold the line and refuse to hold a Judiciary Committee hearing on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.
Also joining the call were Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who delivered an opening prayer.
Grassley told the activists that when someone asked him for an update on the nomination last week, he said that “an update would suggest that something has changed” and that he still intends to block any nominee until the next president takes office.
He said that preventing “another liberal” from joining the Supreme Court was necessary to keep “even the reasonable restrictions on abortion that have been enacted into law through the democratic process” from being “swept away.”
Grassley cited a recent National Right to Life poll which he said found that “about 80 percent of Americans don’t believe that abortions should be available after the first trimester.” (It was more complicated than that.)
“But we know that justices who embrace the view that the Constitution is a living document don’t share that view that you and I share,” he said. “The American people, through their elected representatives, should be making these policy decisions, not unelected judges. These are life-and-death issues that we’re fighting for. They show just how important this fight over who’s going to fill Scalia’s seat is.”
In response to a question from SBA List president Marjorie Dannefelser, Grassley suggested that news reports characterizing Garland as moderate are a misleading ploy by the media (one that, if he was correct, he himself and some of his Republican colleagues would be in on).
When Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were nominated, he said, “always in these headlines at the time they were nominated, that adjective was the word ‘moderate,’ just like Garland. Well, we know how those four have turned out. So don’t believe what you read in the press about people’s basic philosophy, because they got it all wrong and probably intentionally all wrong.”
When Dannenfelser asked Grassley to respond to the argument that the Senate is neglecting its job by refusing to even consider Garland’s nomination, Grassley repeated his claim that it would actually be a waste of taxpayer money to give Garland a hearing.
“Well, we could have a hearing, we aren’t going to have a hearing, but let’s just suppose we could have a hearing,” he said. “And I know 52 people, at least 52 in the Senate, aren’t going to approve it. So you have a hearing and you spend a lot of taxpayers’ money gearing up for it, you spend a lot of time of members, a lot of research that has to be done by staff, and then it ain’t going to go anyplace.”
“It’s like getting dressed up for the prom but you don’t get to go,” Dannenfelser said.
Update: Grassley and McConnell have at last accepted Obama’s invitation to discuss potential nominees at the White House, although they are still refusing to hold hearings or a vote on any potential nominee.
As Senate Republicans close ranks in an attempt to prevent President Obama from nominating the next Supreme Court justice, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have declared that they will refuse to hold a hearing on Obama’s nominee, no matter who it is. On top of that, the Des Moines Register reports that the committee’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, hasn’t even responded to an invitation from the White House to discuss possible nominees.
The Republicans’ unprecedented Supreme Court blockade exposes the lie that has undergirded eight years of GOP obstructionism: that President Obama is “the most divisive” president in history and that he refuses to reach across the aisle.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who just an hour after the news broke of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, made it clear that he didn’t intend to consider any Obama nominee to fill Scalia’s seat, has called Obama the “most divisive” president he’s worked with. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican senator and presidential candidate, has said that Obama is the most “divisive” political figure in modern history. The claim has been repeated over and over again in talk radio and the halls of Congress. Texas Republican senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz complained after Obama’s final State of the Union address last month that the president “lectures us on civility yet has been one of the most divisive presidents in American history."
As Paul Waldman wrote in “The Week” last month, the primary example of the “divisive” Obama that Republicans point to is that he “crammed ObamaCare down our throats” — a strange way to explain a bill that became law through the legislative process.
Let's just remind ourselves of how Republicans have treated Obama over his seven years in office, with a few of the greatest hits. You can start right on the day of his inauguration, when congressional Republicans gathered for a dinner at which they decided that rather than seek areas of cooperation with the new president, they would employ a strategy of maximum confrontation and obstruction in order to deny him any legislative victories.
They followed through on this plan. As Mitch McConnell explained proudly in 2010, "Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny Barack Obama a second term."
The Affordable Care Act itself was designed as something of a political compromise solution, containing elements of plans previously championed by Republicans. But Republicans in Congress closed ranks against the reform, eventually shutting down the government in protest of the law.
Senate Republicans’ attitude toward Obama’s judicial nominees has followed a similar pattern,even before the current Supreme Court showdown. As we noted last week, right-wing pressure groups and their allies in Congress, including Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, were trying to shut down the federal judicial confirmation process in Obama’s final year before Scalia’s death.
If Grassley is really now refusing to even meet with Obama to discuss potential Supreme Court nominees, the Right should finally retire its talking point that it’s Obama who refuses to reach across the aisle.
Alberto Gonzales, who served as White House counsel and attorney general under George W. Bush, is one of the handful of Republicans who has broken ranks to say that President Obama does indeed have the right to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
In an interview with Newsmax TV yesterday, Gonzales repeated his argument and skewered the claim from Sen. Chuck Grassley , chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that it is the Senate’s “standard practice” not to confirm Supreme Court justices during a presidential election year.
“If there is such a standard practice within the Senate, it’s one that I’m not aware of and I was not made aware of when I was White House counsel or as attorney general,” Gonzales told Newsmax’s Ed Berliner. “Again, not having served in the Senate, I can’t speak with authority as to what is standard practice, but certainly if that is the standard practice, that was never communicated to the Bush White House or the Bush administration.”