McConnell’s top priority remains judges even amid coronavirus — and he’s not trying to hide it

McConnell’s top priority remains judges even amid coronavirus — and he’s not trying to hide it


McConnell’s top priority remains judges even amid coronavirus — and he’s not trying to hide it

McConnell’s top priority remains judges even amid coronavirus — and he’s not trying to hide it

McConnell’s top priority remains judges even amid coronavirus — and he’s not trying to hide it 1

If you want to know where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s priorities lie, you’d be hard pressed to find a better proxy than the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing schedule.

That, or his own words.

“My motto for the year is leave no [judicial] vacancy behind,” Mr McConnell reminded conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview on 22 April.

“That hasn’t changed. The pandemic will not prevent us from achieving that goal,” he said.

After five weeks away from the Capitol over health concerns arising from the coronavirus pandemic, Mr McConnell is following through on that promise despite strong objections from Democrats.


The Judiciary panel that oversees federal court nominations held its first hearing of the week on Wednesday to consider whether to elevate 37-year-old district court judge Justin Walker, a McConnell protege, to the powerful DC Circuit Court.

On Thursday, the panel will consider eight more prospective judges, a US marshall, and a federal district attorney.

Then it will break for the weekend before finally holding a hearing next Tuesday “examining liability during the Covid-19 pandemic” for businesses that are deciding whether to open even as the pandemic rages on.

Circuit courts

Mr McConnell has made it clear that loosening tort law during the health crisis to encourage businesses to re-open without the threat of copious lawsuits stemming from Covid-19 exposure is his top priority for the next piece of coronavirus legislation.

But the Judiciary Committee’s schedule makes it even clearer that reshaping the federal judiciary in his conservative image remains the majority leader’s top overall priority so long as Donald Trump is in the White House.


Because not only does installing conservative judges to some of the highest courts in the land — the country’s 13 federal appellate courts, which the majority leader has prioritised, support the Trump administration’s agenda in real time — it also sets up all sorts of legal roadblocks for a President Joe Biden.

Barack Obama only managed to get 54 of his appeals court nominees confirmed during his entire eight-year presidency.

Mr Walker, whose family has known Mr McConnell’s since he was a little boy, would be Mr McConnell and Mr Trump’s 52nd confirmed appellate circuit judge in just over three years.

Democrats, who would doubtless be pulling the same tricks as Mr McConnell if they were in his position, blasted the majority leader and Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Wednesday for scheduling the pair of judicial nomination hearings as the committee’s first orders of business before examining any of the issues related to the coronavirus crisis that fall under the panel’s jurisdiction.

Those issues range from guards’ and inmates’ exposure to Covid-19 in federal prisons, how the health crisis is jamming the immigration system, and whether law enforcement has enough personal protective equipment as it protects the streets.

“We’re in the middle of one of the greatest public health crises in the history of our nation. We’re sitting in a committee with jurisdiction in so many critical areas when it comes to this crisis, and instead Senator McConnell is unwilling to set aside his wish list of filling the courts,” Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois said in his opening remarks at the hearing for Mr Walker on Wednesday.

“The American people deserve better,” Mr Durbin said.

Walking, chewing gum

Mr McConnell has argued, in not so many words, that the Senate can walk (address coronavirus) and chew gum (confirm judges) at the same time, which is what Democrats said during their impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump.

But impeachment wasn’t unfolding during an unprecedented national crisis that demanded immediate passage of legislation: Impeachment was the national crisis.

And it’s not like the Senate has been exactly on the ball with its responsibility to conduct oversight of the more than $2.7trn Congress has pumped into the economy and health system since coronavirus landed on US shores earlier this year.

Mr McConnell and Speaker Nancy Pelosi still haven’t reached an agreement on who will chair the bicameral, five-person oversight panel created in the $2.2trn CARES Act to oversee its rollout.

The CARES Act was signed into law in March, and the panel’s first report is due this Saturday.

That could be hard to compile without a chairperson.

And while other Senate committees are holding various information-gathering hearings related to Covid-19, they are not oversight enquiries into how the administration has implemented the new laws.

If Mr Walker could make the trek from Western Kentucky to DC for his hearing before the Judiciary panel, and medical adviser Scott Atlas of the Hoover Institute could testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Wednesday to talk about the pandemic, certainly Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar could make the 17-minute walk across the Capitol complex from HHS’ Humphrey Building to the Dirksen Senate Office Building to answer question about his department’s latest actions.


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