I’ve been pretty down since the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg late last week. There’s a lot of folks online with dire predictions for the future – this “election could break America”, “20% chance to avoid autocracy” but I can’t shake the feeling that the US is already past the point of no return.
Justice Scalia died in February of 2016, almost nine months before the election, and almost eleven months before the end of Obama’s term. Mitch McConnell refused to hold a vote on Merrick Garland – declared he’d refuse before a nominee had even been announced. He later declared this one of his “proudest moments”. Legal scholars on the other hand called it “unprecedented” and a “blatant abuse of constitutional norms.”
Of course, this came after “a disciplined, sustained, at times underhanded campaign to deny the Democratic president the opportunity to appoint federal judges” and (after re-gaining control of the Senate in 2014) “a near blockade of Obama’s judicial appointments”.
In 2016, McConnell, and other Republicans, pretended that it was an unwritten rule not to hold a vote on a court nominee in the last year of a president’s term, even though it had happened with Anthony Kennedy in 1988 and with Rufus Peckham in 1895. It’s a young country and these are lifetime appointments, so examples of any pattern of behavior are going to be few and far between, but that they got away with such a bald-faced lie is still galling.
Worse, now, in 2020, with Ginsberg passing less than two months and with approximately 13 working Senate days remaining before this election, suddenly Senate Republicans have changed their rationale.
Speaking somewhat broadly, in the modern world you are either in a democratic nation of laws and rules or you are in an authoritarian dictatorship. Either there are rules that apply to everyone or the rules are “whatever you can get away with”. Either Merrick Garland got a hearing in 2016 or the United States is an apartheid nation ruled by a minority that changes “rules” on a whim to serve their agenda.
McConnell is clearly a bully. It would be shocking that he continues to get away with abuses of power, but it does not feel entirely coincidental that McConnell’s home state is Kentucky, where after a months-long investigation, a grand jury announced yesterday that no charges would be filed against the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor in her home in March. One officer is charged with “wanton endangerment” for shooting through the walls of Taylor’s apartment into a neighbor’s apartment.
Taylor’s death during an unannounced police raid undermined all the rhetoric one sees in the wake of other police shootings in the US – “if you weren’t…” “if you only…” “just follow the laws and do what you’re told”.
I don’t know his chances of winning, but I can’t summon the optimism to believe that a future President Biden can undo the damage already seeping into the US – the lives lost won’t come back and, for those that remain, the loss of institutional trust will likely take decades to repair, if they can be repaired at all. I’d like to be wrong about this, but the only way I can believe it’s possible is to ignore all of the “gestures broadly at everything”.
In the days following the grand jury announcement, there have been an escalation of protests in Louisville. Unlike most of the civilized world, bail bonds are still common in the US. If you are arrested for protesting the killing of Breonna Taylor, your bail will be set at $1,000,000 – One Million US Dollars.
If you killed Breonna Taylor, your bail bond will be set at $15,000.