Step Nine. The 9th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step support groups is familiar to anyone involved in recovery. It’s the step in which individuals recognize that their past behavior under the influence of addiction has caused harm to others; and that if they are to have any integrity in their recovery, they must do what they can to make amends, to make things right again. Here’s Step Nine in the words of AA:
The “such people” referred to in Step Nine are those mentioned in the previous Step Eight, “… a list of all persons we had harmed.”
What does this have to do with the Senate of today? Well, in 2016 Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Senators did grave harm to the tradition of the US Senate, to the United States Constitution, and to the American People. McConnell and friends took great pride in blocking then-President Obama from fulfilling his Constitutional duty when they would not even consider Judge Merrick Garland, nominated by Obama to fill a recently vacated Supreme Court seat after the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia. None of this history is in doubt. Nor, in doubt, are the reasons McConnell took such action — to block a duly-elected President with 11 months left in his term from filling a vacancy on the nation’s highest court.
Instead of doing what they were supposed to do — and with 270 days before the upcoming presidential election — McConnell and Senate Republicans chose to leave the Supreme Court with just 8 Justices. McConnell’s choice to leave the Court with hands tied did not take long to have real life consequences. In March 2016, the Court handed down its first deadlocked 4-4 decision in the case of Hawkins vs Community Bank of Raymore.
The power to which McConnell and his senate colleagues are addicted is no less destructive than the substances of alcohol and heroin and crystal meth that can destroy not only brains and bodies, but also families, friendships, and the bonds of affection between fellow humans.
Does the sitting president have the right to nominate someone to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy upon the very recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Yes. When such a nomination is received, does the US Senate have a constitutional responsibility to act on that nomination as they give “advice and consent” to such presidential nominees? Yes, again.
But the issue, however, is that none of what is currently happening exists in a vacuum. There is one inescapable aspect in the situation described above — McConnell’s 2016 unprecedented attack on the authority not of the Presidency, but on the authority of one particular President, Barack Obama. That inescapable fact is that the actions of the Senate at that time did not just do harm, but did grave harm — harm for which amends must be made if they and the Senate, the Constitution, and the American People are to be made more whole once again.
If we as a nation are to return to a less-politicized notion of the Supreme Court — thinking of the Justices not as one writer put it as “politicians in black robes,” but rather as the (almost) final arbiters of Justice in our Constitutional democracy — then the Senate now must make amends. They must NOT take action on any nominee offered by the current president.
By not taking action now, Senators will demonstrate that they recognize that in 2016 their actions revealed just how drunk with power they were (and in many ways still are). By not taking action now and by waiting until the inauguration of a new president in 2021, they will tell the American People that they recognize they were wrong in 2016, and that they wish to make amends. By not taking action now, they will be telling the American People of today and future generations that they can put country over party, that they can put aside petty politics and do what is right.
Justice Ginsburg died just 47 days before the presidential election scheduled for Nov. 3, 2020. In fact, however, she died after voting in this election has already begun, given that several states began mail-in voting in early September. (See Then and Now: What McConnell, others said about Merrick Garland in 2016 vs. after Ginsburg’s death for a more complete timeline.)
If the Senate moves forward with a nominee that the current president seems intent on putting forth, they will show that not only are they still very drunk with power, but that the deadly effects of such addiction are affecting us all, and that — like most addicts in the midst of addiction — they don’t care about anyone or anything else, other than their next fix.