Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell justified his decision to ignore President Obama’s March 2016 nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court by saying that it was an election year and that “the voters should decide,” not a lame-duck president. Garland’s nomination languished for 293 days with no Senate vote on his nomination and expired with the new Congress. McConnell now supports a Senate vote on appointing a new associate justice just weeks before an election, despite some voters already sending in their mail-in ballots, despite 62 percent of Americans saying that whoever is elected president should decide and despite a good likelihood that President Trump will not be reelected.
McConnell’s 2016 decision was unprecedented but at least had the veneer of reflecting the wishes of the electorate. This time, McConnell is making no pretense that his decision reflects the wishes of the 2020 U.S. electorate. McConnell’s turnabout is both hypocritical and flagrantly undermines the U.S. as a representative democracy.
To compound this lack of representation, Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ginsburg, is Roman Catholic. Catholics are already over-represented on the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, 75 percent of the justices are Catholic but only 22 percent of Americans are. Republican senators want the court to be dominated by their conservative values, not by the values of the country’s diverse populations. Republican leadership has relied on the Federalist Society to select its nominees, perhaps, in part, because its executive director is a devout Catholic and vehemently opposed to abortion. Because the Federalist Society selection process is secret, one might say that the Vatican has more say on Republican nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court than the U.S. electorate.
For die-hard opponents of women’s rights, preserving representative democracy is secondary to the goal of limiting women’s rights, especially their access to legal abortions, which abortion opponents’ religious beliefs consider to be murder. As an ex-Roman Catholic, I fear the new Catholic U.S. Supreme Court’s insularity will harm its ability to represent the values of all Americans when it rules on a range of issues important to all of us.