I just saw Jonathan Alter explain something really interesting about this whole fight involving Obama’s three simultaneous nominations to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. A couple of weeks ago, I mocked Chuck Grassley from claiming this was “court packing.” As I explained, that’s not what the phrase means. It dates back to Roosevelt’s threat that if conservatives on the Supreme Court wouldn’t let his legislation stand, he would just increase the number of people on the court and pack the vacant seats with liberals. This is not what Obama is doing. He is just filling already vacant seats.
After writing that, I was surprised to see that Mitch McConnell was saying the same thing that Grassley was. It was apparently a new conservative meme—false though it was. But McConnell took it further. He claimed that what we really needed to do rather than fill the three vacancies on the DC Circuit Court, was to just reduce its size to the eight members it now has. He claimed that it was an underused court anyway and the extra judges could be better used in other courts. That turns out not to be true. Shocking! In fact, the DC Court deals with more complicated cases, so the fact that they hear fewer cases is irrelevant. But clearly, McConnell is just attempting a political maneuver, and that is clear enough to everyone.
This is where we get to Alter. He noted that although Obama is doing nothing like “court packing,” McConnell is proposing exactly that—just in the opposite direction. The court is now fairly conservative with its eight judges. He doesn’t want it to get more liberal by allowing it to be filled with three more judges from a Democratic president. Alter calls this McConnell’s “court shrinking” scheme. And he is quite right to! Here is the sequence on Up with Steve Kornacki:
This is entirely in keeping with the modern Republican approach to minority politics. Despite what Josh Barro my think, he and other conservative pundits function primarily to give conservative politicians plausible justifications for their positions. In Barro’s case, he claimed that I was against talking about infrastructure cost-effectiveness. But that wasn’t the case at all. What I was arguing was that Barro was giving political cover to Chris Christie’s ideological position. And there is no doubt that this is true.
In McConnell’s case, he must know that he isn’t making any sense. But no one in the mainstream is attacking him for it, because his argument sounds plausible. But even if the situation were like with Barro (having the benefit of being correct), it would still be the case that the justification was ex post facto. Since McConnell is more than simply wrong because he throws in hypocrisy, he ought to be laughed out of politics. But of course, he won’t be. There is nothing short of cheating on his wife with a man that can cause a conservative to lose credibility with the mainstream news.