Oregon’s junior senator, Jeff Merkley, is predictably incensed by the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, which likely will reduce the clout of the public-sector unions upon whose campaign cash Merkley and other Democrats have come to rely.
“Today’s decision,” he proclaimed in a Wednesday press release, “is a huge blow to working America — masterminded by the privileged and powerful. Last year, the powerful few completed the theft of a Supreme Court seat. Now, as planned, they are reaping the rewards with a decision designed to cripple workers’ ability to come together to insist on a fair shake.”
What Merkley doesn’t mention, of course, is his own role as an unwitting mini-mastermind of the very result he now decries.
Let’s begin with the “theft” of the Supreme Court seat for which former President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland in March 2016. The Republican-controlled Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, declined to hold hearings or a vote on Garland’s nomination, preferring to hand the seat to the president to be elected in November 2016. Donald Trump, of course, nominated Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed and joined the majority in Janus.
While we have no beef with Gorsuch and support the Janus ruling, Garland was a highly qualified candidate who deserved, at least, a hearing and a vote. Republicans can be sure that Democrats will return the favor the moment they’re given the chance.
Still, how much more difficult would it have been for McConnell to justify Garland’s shabby treatment if another group of “the privileged and the powerful,” as Merkley likes to says, hadn’t changed the rules to pack the federal bench only years earlier?
Back in 2013, the politically privileged and powerful included a whole lot of Democrats, who held the presidency and controlled the Senate. At that time, Merkley played a key role in eliminating the 60-vote standard for judicial nominations, retaining it only for the Supreme Court. Implementing the so-called “nuclear option” reduced the ability of the minority party to influence judicial picks and infuriated Republicans at the time. They got their revenge in 2016, with Garland, and in 2017, with Gorsuch.
Last year, Senate Republicans pushed Merkley’s “nuclear option” one step further by eliminating the 60-vote standard for Supreme Court nominees, allowing for the appointment of Gorsuch by a simple majority. Merkley, ironically, complained about that as well.
Merkley is free to bellow about the Janus decision to his heart’s content. But he should take a moment between breaths to congratulate himself for helping to bring it about.