Blame Mitch McConnell for the Muslim Ban Decision
Today, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold Donald Trump’s travel ban, blocking nearly all people from five majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. If you’re looking for someone to whom you can direct your anger about this travesty—someone to shout at if you see him in public, to refuse service at your restaurant, someone who deserves to be embarrassed to the point of misery ever time he steps out in public—you could do worse than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell is perhaps not the first person you’d think of the blame for the ban: that would be Trump, probably, and after that Neil Gorsuch, the conservative justice he nominated to the Supreme Court bench in January, and who voted to uphold. But without McConnell, Gorsuch wouldn’t be there, and the ban would have been overturned.
If you still retain any coherent memories from before Trump’s inauguration, you’ll recall that the vacancy filled by Gorsuch opened in February 2016, with the death of Antonin Scalia. The date is important because it was during Barack Obama’s presidency, nine months before the election. Obama, then, should have been the president to nominate Scalia’s replacement, and he had one picked out: Merrick Garland, whose near-certain vote against the ban would have flipped the decision to 5-4 in the opposite direction.
Garland is a thoroughly middle-of-the-road figure—his moderate liberalism did not not exactly inspire celebrations from left-leaning people—but McConnell treated him like an enemy general. As senate majority leader, McConnell did not allow a vote to confirm Obama’s nomination, a move that legal historians agreed was unprecedented. He got what he wanted: Trump was elected, and instead of following through with his promise to govern like an outsider by nominating Vince McMahon or some shit, he picked exactly the guy that powerful establishment conservatives like McConnell wanted him to.
It will likely be decades before another conservative vacancy opens, meaning McConnell’s theft of the seat will keep a stranglehold on the court until then. There have already been multiple other consequential decisions that likely would have gone the other way with Garland on the bench: one that will allow Republicans’ continued racial gerrymandering of voter districts, one that will allow them to keep limiting voting rights in general. There will be more, including one that could dramatically reduce the power of unions that is likely to come this week.
In case you’re tempted to argue that what Gorsuch does after his appointment isn’t McConnell’s fault, that perhaps the majority leader is secretly horrified about a confirmation as egregious as the Muslim ban, his reelection campaign set the record straight with a smug tweet immediately after the decision came down.
He’s bragging about it. Disrupting a date with his wife to call him Yertle the Turtle isn’t going to reverse this court decision or any of the others that are surely coming, but at this point it’s all we’ve got.