How Mitch McConnell’s mark on the federal judiciary could last for generations to come

Why the Kentucky senator has been so helpful to Donald Trump when it comes to moving the judiciary to the far right

Published April 10, 2019 11:47AM (EDT)

Mitch McConnell (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Mitch McConnell (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

In either January 2021 or January 2025—depending on whether he serves one or two terms—Donald Trump’s presidency will become a memory. But his mark on the federal judiciary could last for generations. The Republican who is doing the most to help Trump achieve that is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and in an April 10 report for the Daily Beast, journalist Eleanor Clift explains why the Kentucky senator has been so helpful to Trump when it comes to moving the federal judiciary to the far right.

Clift opens her piece by observing, “What Mitch McConnell lacks in charisma, he more than makes up for with steely discipline”—and McConnell, to be sure, has been amazingly disciplined since becoming Senate majority leader in January 2015.

Clift outlines how much McConnell has done to advance the Republican agenda, writing, “McConnell’s goal is not fairness. He envisions a federal bench firmly on the right to steer the country for generations to come. His record so far: two Supreme Court judges, 37 Court of Appeals judges, and 57 District Court judges, including two confirmed Tuesday.”

The journalist elaborates, “He took extraordinary means to deny President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland. And in the last two years, he’s taken numerous actions to override the Senate’s role of advise and consent.”

Clift notes that just last week, McConnell “pushed through a change in Senate rules…. to reduce the time for debate on certain judicial nominees and executive branch appointees from 30 hours to just two hours.” And she points to Patrick Wyrick, a 38-year-old District Court nominee from Oklahoma, as a beneficiary: under the new rules, Wyrick was confirmed by the Senate in a 53-47 vote on Tuesday, April 9. The far-right Wyrick is an ally of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s former administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Wyrick, Clift points out, “has only been on the Oklahoma Supreme Court for two years—and now, he’s on his way to a lifetime federal appointment. No wonder McConnell didn’t want anybody talking about Wyrick for 30 hours.”

Clift goes on to explain, “Republicans are now putting nominees forward in groups of four, which restricts senators in their ability to probe any one nominee. Wyrick was part of such a panel, which meant that each senator had just five minutes for questioning.”

McConnell (who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984) is up for reelection in 2020. And given how much of a red state Kentucky is, his chances of winning another term and staying on as Senate majority leader are quite good.

Clift concludes her report by stressing that McConnell has made it more difficult for Democrats in the Senate to vet GOP judicial nominees.

“Progressives need government to work to enact their agenda—Republicans not so much,” Clift observes. “They’ve kept their eye on the prize: the federal judiciary. And with McConnell in place, it’s paid off.”

By Alex Henderson

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