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If Democrats thought that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was going to stop filling judicial vacancies in the middle of the government’s efforts to combat the Wuhan coronavirus, they were sadly mistaken.
In an interview he did with the Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim this week, McConnell confirmed the Senate was on track to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit:
“I think you cannot credibly argue that Justin Walker is not a judicial all-star,” McConnell said in an interview with The Washington Post in advance of the announcement Friday, ticking off his academic and legal credentials.
Chief among them are Walker’s clerkships with former Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Kavanaugh during his tenure on the D.C. Circuit. Both Kennedy and Kavanaugh privately recommended Walker for the D.C. Circuit vacancy in conversations with Trump, according to a person familiar with the calls who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely.
The Daily Beast’s politics editor Sam Stein fretted that McConnell would also seek to confirm a SCOTUS nominee this year should there become a vacancy:
This is something she noted in the piece, although she treated it as a reversal of a 2016 position of McConnell’s when it actuality it wasn’t:
“This Congress goes on until Dec. 31, and we intend to confirm all of the judges that are sent up to us this year,” McConnell said. He also reiterated his promise that he would fill a Supreme Court vacancy this year, should there be one, a reversal from his argument in 2016 that a seat should remain open until the voters decide in the presidential election.
McConnell says the circumstances are different now because both the Senate and the White House are of the same party, which was not the case four years ago.
Even as the House was moving to impeach President Trump in December and even after Pelosi held on to the impeachment articles for a few weeks in a futile effort to get McConnell to bend to her will, McConnell was confirming judges and vowed to continue to do so.
Though Democrats will likely find McConnell’s remarks about continuing on with confirmations problematic, and accuse him of taking advantage of the crisis for political gain, the opposite is actually true. Unlike so many other things, the U.S. government is not shut down and has to proceed with operating under some sense of normalcy even as the country works to fight the pandemic.
Not only that, but we all know Sen. Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) would be operating under the same standards if the situations were reversed, so any complaints about McConnell’s attentiveness to the judiciary at this time should be treated as non-starters.