October 27, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

231,000 dead Americans is a small price for the GOP to pay for 1 Supreme Court justice

This is the biggest story of the 2020 election.

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I’m going to assume for a moment that Joe Biden wins the election in order to say something related to Amy Coney Barrett, the newest justice to sit on the US Supreme Court, giving the Republicans the 6-3 supermajority they have desired for decades.

I’m going to assume Biden wins in order to offer a prediction: that at some point in the future, we’ll look back to see what the biggest story of the 2020 election was. That story, I suggest, is the Republican Party, seizing a golden opportunity, trading short-term control of one branch of the federal government for long-term control of another. That story is of a Republican Party buying power with the bodies of dead Americans.

Legislation that could bring relief to millions sits ignored in the US Senate while 52 “constitutional conservatives” celebrated their dominion over the land over laughs.

The price came not only in the form of a sacrificial president who could not govern his way out of a brown paper bag. The price came in the form of blood and treasure. At the same time that the Republicans were high-fiving each other in the White House Rose Garden, more than 231,000 were dead from the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, as they profaned a solemn swearing-in, legislation that could have brought relief to millions sat in the US Senate. It was ignored. Meanwhile, 52 “constitutional conservatives” celebrated their dominion over the land over laughs and drinks.

The Senate Republicans, I hope it will be clear in the coming months, made a choice. They could help Donald Trump win reelection by passing a stimulus bill worth more than $2.2 trillion in order help Americans struggling in a time of the covid. Or they could sacrifice him to take control of the high court while at the same time redigging ideological trenches. Joe Biden, as they knew, would be asking for trillions. They were prepared to worry about the debt. Susan Demas, top editor of the Michigan Advance, said today: “Austerity during a pandemic is a death sentence for thousands.” Months from now, we might look back to see that Demas was understating things greatly.

Here’s the tip jar! Put something nice in it!

Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review, said in his latest that voting for Trump this year was for conservative voters like raising a middle finger to democratic liberalism, or as he put it, “the whip hand in American culture.” He was wrong. Conservatives don’t need to vote for Trump to do that. The middle finger was raised on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, when the Republican Party gave up all pretense to being committed to the republic, and put everything into domination by force of law.

Saying Lowry was wrong gives him too much credit, though. It’s been obvious for years that, in practice, “conservatism” never meant what people like Lowry said it meant. It has always been a middle finger to the slow, mixed up and complicated drift of modernity. “Conservatism” doesn’t stand for things. It stands against things, especially when those things threaten the old orders of power. When Republicans say that Barrett interprets “the Constitution as written,” they’re saying she makes space for things American democracy has rejected. They’re saying long-term control of minoritarian institution means a political minority can impose its political will on everyone else and, thanks to life-time appointments, never face consequences.

Liberals used to think of the Supreme Court as a friend. It was, after all, the court that decided Brown, Griswold, Roe, Obergefell, and other cases that stood against bigotry and discrimination and stood for democracy and freedom. That court, in the minds of liberals, stood on “the right side of history.” That court, liberals now understand, is gone. Professor Garrett Epps, for the Washington Monthly, wrote this about Barrett’s confirmation: “As this vile mummery played out, I mourned—not for the first time—the idea of a Court that was property of the nation, not of party; that sought justice, not ideological advantage; that earned a nation’s respect, not its gaping horror.

“We shall not look upon its like again.”

Which brings me back to my thought experiment. Most people don’t know what to do about the court, whether to expand it, rotate justices, limit their terms, or strip its power. What people should know, when it’s made clear, is the choice the Republicans made to arrive at this point. They didn’t choose the public, the common good, or even due process. They didn’t even choose, assuming Biden wins, to support their own president. They chose to smash and grab—smash all the rules and grab power, while hoping no one notices until months from now when it’s too late to do anything.

—John Stoehr


  1. David Mikulec on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    related: this is worth a read as well. Written by a lawyer and member of the SCOTUS Bar:

    “Let’s begin with an important statistic, a piece of evidence , if you will: GOP presidents have made 15 of the last 19 SCOTUS appointments. And let’s look at a subset of that mathematical evidence: five of those 15 have been appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote and were approved by Senators representing a minority of the people of the United States. ”


  2. Leslie M., Eastern KS on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    The DailyKos piece is well worth a read. And John, you’re on point as ever. The point being 🗡 at our hearts. The biggest challenge is to also strip this generation of Republicans of their clever wordsmithing and PR mastery to repeatedly remind all and punish them for this treachery.

    The highlight of this treason was the midnight White House balcony staging of Barrett with her pimp, while their gang gazed up – we must take back the rituals and symbolism in time. This must not stand. We mustn’t be lulled into the GOP’s galling bet that we can’t muster our rage to rally and defeat them.

  3. hw on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    The attitude of the GOP should come as no surprise to anyone, other than the current Democratic leaders who continue to be unprepared to lead. We’ve watched corporations sacrifice front-line workers to Covid-19 as they reap unprecedented profits. Self-dealing, insider trading, embezzling campaign donations are all part of the GOP handbook. They are no longer a governing party, they are merely grifters lining their pockets, just as corporate CEOs and shareholders have been doing for decades. Democracy is barely an afterthought. If nothing else, we should adopt a new vocabulary for Republicans and SCOTUS. Both are illegitimate actors…continuing to use the same words to describe corrupt actors normalizes the depth of the horrors. Even now I hear so many ‘Conservatives’ who fear the changes a Democratic majority would bring…as though endless death via an unchecked virus, unrestrained pollution, and contaminated foods (after the few remaining regulations are gutted) weren’t sufficiently frightening. As though the loss of healthcare, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and half the population refusing to wear masks, social distance, or accept a vaccine (when it finally arrives) isn’t sufficiently frightening. The failure to properly predicate the stakes of this election season is truly frightening.

  4. Terry on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    Thank you for putting in words what I was wrestling with and has been horrendous to witness. The depravity of the Republican Party is boundless.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

      Thanks Terry!

  5. Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    I think President Biden will win the election handily and realize lame duck trmp will do what he can to further damage the country. No longer feeling they must fear trmp maybe the lame duck Senate will do some righteous things. At this point, assuming the new Senate will have a good majority of Democratic women and men and the House remains Democratic as well, I think it would be appropriate for Biden to appoint 3 or 4 qualified people and increase the size of SCOTUS. Seems to me the USA needs the Supreme Court that recognizes our government is “of the people, by the people and FOR the people”.

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