The looming battle over President Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee will be colored by lingering bad blood over past confirmation fights, as both Democrats and Republicans have been radicalized by perceived slights to previous nominees.
Republicans and conservative activists are incensed by the treatment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who they believe was falsely smeared as a rapist and dealt with unfairly by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who currently chairs the panel, has specifically invoked the Kavanaugh hearings in explaining why he has abandoned his reluctance to confirm a Supreme Court nominee during an election year.
“Lastly, after the treatment of Justice Kavanaugh I now have a different view of the judicial-confirmation process,” Graham wrote in a letter to committee Democrats, after first noting there was precedent for the Senate failing to confirm an opposite party’s high-court nominee in an election year. “Compare the treatment of Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh to that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, and it’s clear that there already is one set of rules for a Republican president and one set of rules for a Democrat president.”
Graham was among the last Republicans to support Democratic Supreme Court picks, having voted to confirm President Barack Obama’s nominees Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
Democrats counter that Kavanaugh got a seat on the Supreme Court, while Merrick Garland, the federal judge who was Obama’s choice to fill the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, did not even get a hearing. In addition to avenging Garland, Democrats desperately want to defend Ginsburg’s seat and iconic status. If a Trump nominee to succeed her is confirmed, they will view both that seat and the one held by Justice Neil Gorsuch as stolen.