Behind the Mask of Hypocrisy On Supreme Court Nomination Stalling Tactics

If the political historian David Runciman is right that political hypocrisy is the "mask of power," then Iowa Senator Charles Grassley and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul are quite a frightening pair to behold.

The current Senate obstructionism over the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Scalia is unprecedented, requiring Senators Grassley and Paul, among others, to justify it with equally high-minded rhetoric about the American political process, democracy, and enough other verbiage to fill a semester of a high school civics class.

It doesn't take much to understand how outrageous their conduct is: This is the first Senate majority in American history to refuse to consider any nominee from the president, no matter how qualified that nominee may be.

They think they've got a winning argument, apparently. In a letter from Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to the President, Senator Grassley and his colleagues argued that they want to "ensure the American people are not deprived of the opportunity to engage in a full and robust debate over the type of jurist they wish to decide some of the most critical issues of our time."

That all sounds very impressive, but in reality, it's just so much hogwash. As numerous observers have pointed out, the American people have already twice chosen to entrust this President with the power to make Supreme Court nominations and his term has nearly a year left to go.

So, what is going on here? The Republican strategy is, in part, a bid to push policies that will lead to more pollution, more bad air, more bad water, and more profits for major polluters. When their "mask" slips, that is what you see behind all of this.

Key Republicans are being quite explicit about this, starting with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley himself on February 12, the Iowa Senator launched into a long rant on the Senate floor against standards to protect our health and environment (the Senator begins his remarks around 25 minutes into the video.) The headline of the E&E News article (sub. requ.) outlining Grassley's candid comments said it all: "Grassley cites key enviro cases in blocking nominee."

And it's not just Senator Grassley. Fresh from his failed presidential campaign, Rand Paul was even blunter about the linkage between [the] obstructionism and the agenda of Big Polluters. The Glasgow Daily Times wrote about Senator Paul's comments at a Kentucky political event:

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, after the agency had created new rules "to wipe out what was left of the coal industry."

"The Supreme Court, with Justice (Antonin) Scalia in the majority, ruled 5-4 to stop these regulations and they were going to revisit them," Paul said ...

"We could get a president who says 'give me all the power and I'm going to do whatever I want.' We need the checks and balances. In the midst of that, we have a decision to make over a new justice."

Working a similar rhetorical vein, Senator Grassley got pretty worked up over the efforts of the EPA to ensure Americans have safe water to drink and air to breathe. He even referred to the Clean Power Plan - which will prevent thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of asthma attacks, and create up to $54 billion in climate and health benefits - as "ridiculous." (The "ridiculous" comment is at about 45:30 on the video linked above.)

Maybe both Senators would feel differently if they were really interested in reflecting the views of most Americans, who in poll after poll have expressed their strong support for tackling climate change and protecting our air and water. Or maybe Senator Grassley at least might reconsider if he pays attention to editorial opinion in his own state. Just today, the Cedar Rapids Gazette said "the overt obstructionism that Senate Republicans are promising represents a new low, far below Iowans' expectations of their senior senator." That's just one of many editorials out of Iowa expressing disappointment in Grassley's politicization of the vacancy - check out what the Des Moines Register, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald and the Quad-City Times had to say.

Or maybe Senators Grassley and Paul would relax a bit if they read my colleague David Doniger's blog - written before Scalia's death - outlining why we believe that the Supreme Court would ultimately uphold the Clean Power Plan on the merits.

I know, they may not take our word for it.

But Americans shouldn't have to take this obstructionism, either. Let's not allow these Senators to keep putting politics ahead of their constitutional duties. Senator Grassley, Senator Paul and their colleagues should commit to meet with the President's nominee, and then give them a fair hearing and a timely vote.