Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the supposed great "institutionalist," just engineered further destruction of his institution this week. The Senate confirmed conservative Seattle lawyer Eric Miller, best known for his career fighting against the rights of Native Americans, to the country's most liberal appeals court. That's bad. What's destructive is that, for the first time ever, that vote came to the floor over the opposition of both of the nominee's home state senators.
Both Democrats, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, refused to provide their "blue slips" for Miller, the procedural go-ahead that Senate tradition has required for judicial nominations to proceed. The two senators didn't just not submit their approval; they both forcefully opposed Miller's nomination and confirmation. That's after Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham shoved his nomination through committee with a hearing held during a congressional recess that was attended by just two Republican senators.
Murray and Cantwell blasted the confirmation as "a dangerous first" and "a damaging precedent.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, warned Republicans: "It is regrettable and likely will result in more ideological nominees who don't reflect the values of their home states," she said in a statement issued after the vote. "It’s hard to not see this action coming back to bite Republicans when they're no longer in power in the Senate."
We're going to hold Democrats to that. There's going to be a lot of judicial restoration to be done when Democrats are back in control, because Trump has gotten more appeals court justices confirmed than any other president in his first two years. That's in part because McConnell and his fellow Republicans were so successful in forcing vacancies to remain open through President Obama's two terms. They did that, in part, by boycotting the process—refusing to consult with the Obama White House on potential nominees—and by refusing to provide their blue slips for nominees Obama put forward, often even if they had suggested those nominees in the first place. While Democrats were in control of the Senate in Obama's first term, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who was in charge of the Judiciary Committee, let that happen. He refused to fight fire with fire, and here we are now, watching the federal judiciary get loaded up with radical extremists with lifetime appointments.
Maybe now that McConnell has set yet another destructive precedent, Democrats will be more aware of the stakes when they're back in power.