Ruthless Now

Forget all the other issues. No, the nation is still a mess, the Covid pandemic getting worse and worse – it’ll be two hundred thousand dead sometime this weekend – and the economy collapsing for everyone but a few hundred people who chat with each other on CNBC and the Fox Business Channel – and the president has said that the results of this presidential election will be totally invalid and maybe it’s now impossible that there will be a valid election in America ever again. Elections are always rigged. Elections don’t work anymore. He seems to be getting ready to say he has no choice but to cancel this November’s election and all future elections and declare himself president for life. What else can he do? And who is going to stop him? He’s got Fox News and millions of heavily-armed American citizens on his side, and, perhaps, Vladimir Putin and the entire Russian military too.

These are strange times, but now there’s been a change regarding the small group of just nine men and women who everyone agrees have the final say on what can or cannot be done in this hot mess of a country. That’s what the Supreme Court does, and suddenly everything changed there. The Washington Post covers the startling news:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the high court and a legal pioneer for gender equality whose fierce opinions as a justice made her a hero to the left, died Sept. 18 at her home in Washington. She was 87.

The death was announced in a statement by the U.S. Supreme Court. She had recently been treated for pancreatic cancer.

She was old-school liberal, and deadly:

Born in Depression-era Brooklyn, Justice Ginsburg excelled academically and went to the top of her law school class at a time when women were still called upon to justify taking a man’s place. She earned a reputation as the legal embodiment of the women’s liberation movement and as a widely admired role model for generations of female lawyers.

Working in the 1970s with the American Civil Liberties Union, Justice Ginsburg successfully argued a series of cases before the high court that strategically chipped away at the legal wall of gender discrimination, eventually causing it to topple. Later, as a member of the court’s liberal bloc, she was a reliable vote to enhance the rights of women, protect affirmative action and minority voting rights and defend a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Almost all American conservatives would agree with Samuel Johnson – “Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg was having none of that. Women get to have their say too. Everyone does. And that made her a hero:

On the court, she became an iconic figure to a new wave of young feminists, and her regal image as the “Notorious RBG” graced T-shirts and coffee mugs. She was delighted by the attention, although she said her law clerks had to explain that the moniker referred to a deceased rapper, the Notorious B.I.G. She also was the subject of a popular film documentary, “RBG” (2018).

When she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2015, her colleague and improbable close friend, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote about her dual roles as crusader and judge. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had two distinguished legal careers, either one of which would alone entitle her to be one of Time’s 100,” wrote Scalia, who died in 2016.

After Scalia’s death, the Senate took no action to confirm President Barack Obama’s nominee to the court, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland. President Trump, who took office in 2017, has nominated two new justices to the court, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, the latter succeeding Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

NPR reported that Justice Ginsburg, in a statement dictated to her granddaughter in recent days, said, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

Her colleague and improbable close friend, “Fat Tony” Scalia, would probably have agreed with her on that. Disagree on what you will, but play fair. That was the whole point:

A landmark moment for Justice Ginsburg came in 2011, when the court for the first time opened its term with three female justices. Justice Ginsburg said in an interview with The Washington Post that it would “change the public perception of where women are in the justice system. When the schoolchildren file in and out of the court and they look up and they see three women, then that will seem natural and proper – just how it is.”

The rest of this lengthy obituary covers her decisions and dissents and biographical details, but one anecdote says it all:

In 1958, Ruth transferred from Harvard to Columbia Law School to complete her legal training. There, she continued to thrive, again making the law review and tying for first in her class at graduation in 1959.

Once she started looking for work, she could not find a job at New York’s top firms.

“I struck out on three grounds – I was Jewish, a woman and a mother,” Justice Ginsburg reflected later. “The first raised one eyebrow; the second, two; the third made me indubitably inadmissible.”

Nor could she land an interview for a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, despite a recommendation from a dean of Harvard Law School. Frankfurter made it clear that he simply wasn’t ready to hire a woman.

Eventually, she landed a position as a clerk for a federal district court judge, after a Columbia law professor lined up a man as a replacement in the event Justice Ginsburg faltered.

And then she showed them all. Don’t mess with her. She’ll charm you, she seems to have been an awfully nice person, and she’ll be the one who ends up on the Supreme Court. But now she’s gone, and as Carl Hulse reports on the crisis that generated:

Senator Mitch McConnell vowed late Friday that he would move to put President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, breaking with his 2016 stance and setting the stage for a bruising battle that promised to reverberate through the 2020 elections.

“Americans re-elected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement issued not long after news of Justice Ginsburg’s death became public. “Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

It was a stark turnabout from his position four years ago, when Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, reacted to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia by declaring that a successor should await the outcome of the presidential election, and then proceeded to block President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland.

That’s bullshit. It was easy enough to call him out:

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, sought to remind Mr. McConnell of that former position minutes after the news of Justice Ginsburg’s death, saying in a tweet: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

His words were not accidental. They were a verbatim recitation of what Mr. McConnell said in his surprising announcement in February 2016 immediately after Justice Scalia’s death.

McConnell shrugged. A cynic might say that what McConnell seemed to be saying is that as soon as Trump names his man to take her place on the Supreme Court, perhaps Monday, he will hold a vote on the Senate floor – no background check, no testimonials on the nominee’s character or deep learning or patriotism or whatever, no committee hearings, no full Senate hearing, no discussion at all – just a quick up or down vote. Trump’s man will be sworn in Tuesday. Odds are that will be either Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity, or perhaps Jared Kushner or Ted Nugent.

But that’s McConnell’s fantasy. His fellow Republican senators have egos. Every one of them on the Senate judiciary committee will want to have his say, on national television, so expect committee hearings. And there will be a full Senate hearing too, for the same reason – cameras! Every politician wants to be a star. That changes nothing of course. But this will not be fast, for all sorts of reasons:

In his statement Friday night, Mr. McConnell made no mention of the timing for considering nominees, a sign that he was calculating the best scenario for Supreme Court hearings and a vote, given that several Republican senators are facing tough re-election challenges, and a handful have suggested they would not want to move forward with a confirmation so close to the election.

Mr. McConnell, who is also up for re-election, vowed to plunge ahead anyway, even though in the case of Mr. Scalia, the vacancy occurred nine months before the election, while Justice Ginsburg died just over a month before the election and with early voting already underway.

In short, two or three senators cannot afford to be total jerks, just like him, not at this time:

There are significant differences between 2016 and today. Then, Republicans held the Senate majority and had the power to refuse Mr. Obama’s nominee. Democrats are in the minority now, and are virtually powerless to block Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans from moving ahead to fill a vacancy in the court if they decide they want to do so. Rules changes in the Senate since 2013 have left control of judicial nominees entirely in the hands of the majority if they can hold their forces together.

It is not at all clear whether they can. A small number of Republican senators – Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa – have indicated they would not want to fill a Supreme Court vacancy so close to a presidential election.

And that screws up everything:

The question for Mr. McConnell and his fellow Republicans would be whether they could secure 50 votes to push through a nominee over what would undoubtedly be intense Democratic objections. Given their reliance on the rationale of the looming presidential election in 2016, some Republicans – particularly those like Ms. Collins who are up for election in a difficult environment this year – might be reluctant to move ahead, fearing a backlash from more moderate and independent voters they are counting on to prevail.

Certainly, any Republican who resists would come under tremendous pressure given the chance for Mr. Trump, who is battling for re-election, to get a third nominee for the court and lock in his conservative majority. Republicans, led by Mr. McConnell, have made their push to place more than 200 conservative judges on the federal bench a centerpiece of their agenda, and Mr. McConnell will no doubt want to put an exclamation point on that achievement.

He may not get his exclamation point:

Mr. Graham, whose panel would lead the confirmation process, issued a statement Friday night praising Justice Ginsburg but remaining silent on how the panel would handle a nomination by Mr. Trump. But at an October 2018 appearance at the Atlantic Festival in Washington during the Senate’s deliberations on the nomination of Justice Kavanaugh, he pledged not to confirm a new Supreme Court justice under circumstances similar to the present.

“If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait to the next election,” Mr. Graham said.

Hours before Justice Ginsburg’s death was announced, Ms. Murkowski told an Alaska radio station that she would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee before Election Day.

“We are 50 some days away from an election,” she told Alaska Public Media.

Mr. Grassley, who led the Judiciary Committee in 2016, has also said that he would not conduct Supreme Court confirmation hearings in a presidential election year after the way Republicans blockaded the Garland nomination. But Mr. Graham, not Mr. Grassley, is now chairman of the panel.

Yes, it’s complicated, and Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman note more complications:

The sudden vacancy on the court abruptly transformed the presidential campaign and underscored the stakes of the contest between Mr. Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic challenger. It also bolstered Mr. Trump’s effort to shift the subject away from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and remind Republicans why it matters whether he wins or not, while also potentially galvanizing Democrats who fear a change in the balance of power on the Supreme Court.

If Mr. Trump were able to replace Justice Ginsburg, a liberal icon, it could cement a conservative majority for years to come, giving Republican appointees six of the nine seats. While Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. lately has sided at times with the four liberals on issues like immigration, gay rights and health care, he would no longer be the swing vote on a court with another Trump appointee.

So, suddenly, everything is up for grabs:

Democrats immediately said they would fiercely resist any effort to confirm a justice before the inauguration, warning that Republicans should follow their own precedent from 2016.

“They must exhibit a shred of integrity and recognize that abandoning their word now, and breaking all precedents by ramming a nominee through – most likely after the election – would cause the nation tremendous pain,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.

But at least Ted Nugent isn’t a factor in any of this:

On the campaign trail in recent days, Mr. Trump has sought to stress the possibility that he could name more members to the court, rolling out a list of about 40 possible candidates he said he would consider. He was onstage at a rally in Minnesota on Friday night when news of Justice Ginsburg’s death arrived and, not aware of what had happened, and told the crowd that he planned to name a conservative if given the opportunity.

Mr. Trump specifically named Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, joking that he would be unanimously confirmed because he is widely disliked by his colleagues who would like to move him elsewhere.

“I have to have somebody we are going to make sure we get approved,” the president said. “The only one I can think of is Ted because he is going to get 50 Republican votes and going to get 50 Democrat votes – they’ll do anything to get him out of the Senate.”

Everyone hates the guy. He’ll do. But of course he had been joking around before the things changed and got real:

After the rally, reporters told Mr. Trump of Justice Ginsburg’s passing. “She just died?” he said. “Wow. I didn’t know that. You’re telling me now for the first time. She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman, whether you agreed or not. She was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. I’m actually sorry to hear that.” He made no comment on a replacement and took no questions.

He may have to think about this, but of course others think for him:

White House advisers privately described Justice Ginsburg’s death as a significant boost for Mr. Trump’s re-election chances. One person familiar with White House planning said that the new nominee will be announced sooner rather than later, and that the White House hopes that Mr. McConnell moves forward with a vote. The president is likely to meet again with those on his short list in the coming days, the person familiar with the planning said.

And that means war:

Democrats argued that the open seat would rally their own supporters as well but it was not clear it would make a major difference since they are already motivated to defeat Mr. Trump for other reasons.

“I don’t know how much angrier the left can get,” said Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. She said that Democrats would be animated by the turn of events, and that if Mr. McConnell were to go ahead before the election and move the nomination through, it would cost Republicans the Senate.

The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd is even more direct:

I used to feel pretty optimistic that the country would get through the Trump years intact.

In 2016, America got mad – and went mad. This administration has unleashed so many fresh hells that a portrait of the last four years looks very Hieronymus Bosch. But the idea of this country is so remarkable; surely it could withstand one cheesy con man who squeaked in.

Now we might have passed a point of no return. No matter who wins in November, can the harsh divisions abate?

The stunning news Friday night of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg guaranteed a political bonfire.

And that would start with this:

With Democrats still smarting over Republicans’ refusal to consider Barack Obama’s pick of Merrick Garland for the court, this will push them over the edge, and maybe to the polls, especially women. And Trump’s base could race to vote, because the president has talked about nominating Tom Cotton or Ted Cruz, aiming to have a court that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Mitch McConnell said Friday that Trump’s nominee – hopefully not Jeanine Pirro – will get a floor vote.

And it will end when Donald Trump declares the election invalid and that goes to the Supreme Court:

“We cannot have Election Day come and go with a 4-4 court,” Cruz told Sean Hannity. Imagine a Bush v. Gore scenario with a 4-4 court.

Ah, so THAT is why Trump needs his new Supreme Count Justice! The Supreme Court ruled George W. Bush president in 2000 – they alone decided that – and this time they will choose Donald Trump as president, and make it so. All it takes is that fifth vote – Ted Cruz or Ted Nugent or someone or other – and Dowd sees this:

As it turned out, the founders created a country painfully vulnerable to whoever happens to be president. They assumed that future presidents would cherish what they had so painfully created, and continue to knit together different kinds of people from different areas with different economic interests.

But now that we have a president who takes those knitting needles and stabs the country mercilessly with them, we can see how fragile this whole thing really is.

All the stuff we took for granted – from presidential ethics to electoral integrity to a nonpolitical attorney general – is blown to smithereens. The president who does not believe in science has been conducting a science experiment for four years: What happens to a country when you have a president who is doing everything in his power to cleave it?

No one knows the answer to that. But they’ll know the answer soon enough. The world has turned ruthless. Sometimes a bad pun is all that’s left to any of us.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Ruthless Now

  1. Christopher Neel says:

    Thanks for writing these and putting in the effort. I’ve been reading your blog for, I think, over a decade. It’s part of my routine. thought I should let you know.

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