Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell used to be the biggest hog at the trough.
As majority leader in the United States Senate, McConnell ruled in an uncompromising manner, especially when it came to judicial appointments.
That all changed when two Democrats from Georgia were elected to the Senate in special elections in January.
McConnell is now the minority leader, but he still packs a powerful punch.
When it came to judicial nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court, McConnell is a pivotal figure who had the power to prevent and approve Supreme Court nominees.
With the 50-50 split now in the Senate, Democrats can control judicial appointments to the Supreme Court with the tie-breaking vote of the vice president. But if Republicans regain control of the Senate in 2022, McConnell would be back in the driver’s seat.
Some might ask why those of us from around here should fret about McConnell. The simple answer is McConnell is on a mission to keep and increase the number of conservative justices on the Supreme Court. Some of us applaud McConnell’s efforts while others shudder at the thought of McConnell getting another shot at controlling who sits on the high court.
The makeup of the Supreme Court affects us all. We should all be concerned about the process of choosing and confirming nominees.
To better understand McConnell, it is necessary to go back to the Watergate scandal and what is referred to as the Saturday Night Massacre of Oct. 20, 1973.
As the noose tightened around President Richard Nixon’s political neck over the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate complex, a special prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Elliot Richardson named Archibald Cox demanded to hear tape recordings of meetings discussing the Watergate break-in Nixon had recorded.
When Richardson appointed Cox, it was with the understanding that Cox would run the probe independently and could not be fired unless there were “extreme improprieties.”
But when Cox demanded to listen to the tapes, Nixon decided to have Richardson fire him. Richardson refused and resigned. Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus also refused to fire Cox and resigned.
That left the illegal act to Solicitor General Robert Bork who agreed to fire Cox. With the resignations of Richardson and Ruckelshaus, Bork was, at the time, elevated to acting attorney general.
All this took place on a single Saturday night, and the reaction was overwhelmingly negative—so much so that Nixon was forced to appoint another special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, who eventually brought Nixon down.
Years later, Bork was nominated for a spot on the Supreme Court. The Senate, led by Democrats, refused to confirm him. McConnell never got over the rebuke of Bork. McConnell has exacted revenge ever since.
To this day, Bork’s case remains contentious. Some say he was merely following the direction of President Nixon while others claim Bork broke the law.
In a lawsuit brought by Ralph Nader against Bork, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said Bork’s firing of Cox constituted an illegal act.
In a Nov. 14, 1973, decision, the court dismissed Nader’s suit claiming he lacked standing but included the following language in its final order:
“The Court declares that Archibald Cox, appointed Watergate Special Prosecutor … was illegally discharged from that office.”
Yet McConnell still pursues his vendetta on Bork’s behalf despite that court ruling. McConnell scuttled President Barack Obama’s attempt to put Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court and controlled the confirmation of three justices nominated by President Donald Trump.
And what was McConnell’s motivation for his passion to ensure a conservative Supreme Court?
It appears McConnell operates under the false assumption that Bork got a raw deal from the Senate. In fact, the Senate recognized that Bork broke the law and did not deserve a seat on the Supreme Court.