MICHAEL BARONE: Who’s Violating “Norms” These Days?
Norms, we are told, matter. Violating norms, recklessly disregarding norms — these are charges on which President Trump is often arraigned in the court of public opinion.
The indictment starts with his annoying habit of inventing insulting nicknames for his opponents and critics. You can add to the list as you will and perhaps come up with enough material just there to consume the 700-plus word limit of a newspaper column.
But Trump hasn’t been the only one disregarding norms of late. Consider the question of whether and when the president and Senate should fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The historical precedent is clear, as set out by National Review’s Dan McLaughlin. When a vacancy occurs in a presidential year and the opposition party has a majority in the Senate, the president can nominate, but the nominee is almost never confirmed. There have been 10 such vacancies in the history of the republic. Presidents made pre-Election Day nominations in six cases, but only one nominee was confirmed before the election. That was in 1888.
Presidents whose parties had Senate majorities selected nominees in election years 19 times, and 17 of those nominees were confirmed. The two rejections came together in 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson’s nominee for chief justice, Abe Fortas, and his nominee to replace Fortas as associate justice were blocked by a bipartisan filibuster.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thus was following precedent when he blocked consideration of President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat, and now, he is following precedent again by promising a floor vote on Trump’s nominee to fill Ginsburg’s seat.
Democrats are the ones being inconsistent here. If you think a president’s nominee is entitled to a vote from an opposition Senate, then a fortiori, you must think the nominee is entitled to a vote from the party’s Senate.
Then again, you may not think such flip-flopping violates a norm. But Democrats’ threat to pack the Supreme Court with additional justices if they win the presidency and a Senate majority certainly does.
Also the threat to admit DC and Puerto Rico as states so as to lock up the Senate.