It may take 15 years to repair damage done by President Trump. It may take even longer to reverse damage done by Gov. Matt “Koch Brother” Bevin. But what U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell is doing to the nation’s court system will injure all of us for much, much longer — for decades to come.
It is a long game that McConnell has been playing for years, but now he is seeing success.
A recent ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is the first of many victories McConnell will celebrate as he rebuilds the federal courts into conservative bastions, what he hopes to be his legacy. The appeals court last week overturned a lower court ruling on a Kentucky abortion law, forcing doctors to attempt to show women ultrasounds of their fetuses and play an audible heartbeat before an abortion.
The 2-to-1 ruling was made possible by John Bush, a former Louisville lawyer whom Trump nominated to the court upon a recommendation from… McConnell.
Bush, you may remember, wrote under a blog alias that slavery and abortion were the “two greatest tragedies in our country.” He has also denounced gay marriage and questioned climate change. But, here he is, appointed for life to a court that holds enormous power over our lives, and he will outlast any president or even McConnell.
He is only 54.
For years, McConnell has worked to hold open as many federal bench seats as possible until he could stack the courts with conservative judges. Each nominee’s primary qualification apparently is that they belong to The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, a conservative, libertarian think tank seeking to change the judicial system through originalist interpretations of the Constitution.
Witness how McConnell blocked the nomination by President Obama of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. He declared that no nominations should be confirmed in an election year. Never mind that this move created a new standard for nominations that is completely antithetical to the U.S. Constitution.
Then McConnell got Trump, who pledged to nominate only pro-life justices. So, instead of Garland, we got Justice Neil Gorsuch, who, for instance, ruled that Hobby Lobby does not have to provide contraceptive coverage in employee health plans under the Affordable Care Act. The company had objected on religious grounds.
Gorsuch is only 51.
Next up was Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He claimed to respect the Roe v. Wade precedent, which is largely what secured his nomination. But at the first opportunity, Kavanaugh voted in favor of a Louisiana law that would require abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges in a nearby hospital. The bill was similar to a Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down just a couple of years before.
Kavanaugh is also only 54.
McConnell is accelerating his efforts.
Just last week, McConnell and Senate Republicans invoked what’s called the “nuclear option,” a change to the Senate rules that will allow lower-level judicial nominations to be confirmed more quickly — an important move to load the courts with his choices.
If stacking the court isn’t bad enough, McConnell has his fingers in our state government, too. Daniel Cameron, a Republican candidate for state attorney general — the office that should defend us from a reckless governor and/or legislature— used to work for McConnell.
Cameron was McConnell’s legal counsel for two years. He has already promised to protect Kentucky from late-term and after-birth abortions (which are rare and, again, would interfere with the relationships between women and their doctors). If he wins, then the McConnell-groomed, next Kentucky attorney general won’t stand up to Bevin or another governor who tries again to shut down Planned Parenthood.
And Kentucky Republicans are learning from McConnell, preparing for the court coup. They passed a state law to ban all abortions, anticipating the day when the U.S. Supreme Court says states can do so. The GOP-puppet legislature has been passing increasingly restrictive abortion bills, hoping that Kentucky is the first to get those in front of the courts.
Another bill this year would have moved important state government and constitutional cases out of Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd’s courtroom. You might recall that Shepherd struck down last year’s pension bill and has been behind other GOP defeats.
What is the price for McConnell?
He must continue defending Trump’s hurtful policies and disgusting behaviors. But, alas, he knows that the conservative court system he is building will remain as his legacy long after Trump is gone.