Within weeks of Donald Trump's victory in 2016, incoming White House counsel Don McGahn, the conservative Federalist Society's Leonard Leo and a handful of other attorneys set about drawing up lists of potential nominees for more than 100 federal judicial vacancies.
According to a story by The Associated Press, the testament to their work is Amy Coney Barrett's rocket rise in four years from being a law professor at Indiana's Notre Dame University to becoming Trump's latest Supreme Court Justice nominee with only three years experience on a federal appeals bench.
Their work, much more than Donald Trump's. Not that the details should get in the way of Trump's campaigning for re-election based on his appointments of three conservative justices — all given the blessing by white evangelicals — to remake the land's highest court.
The McGahn/Leo team got an early start on the highest court in 2016 after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Mitch McConnell's year-long hijacking of Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to succeed him. The majority leader, who years before had famously said his party's most important task was to deny Obama a second term, in February 2009 wrote a letter to then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying there could be no action on any of Obama's nominees pending a long list of demands — including completion of reviews by the Office of Government Ethics — a practice they dumped when Trump came to power.
With Scalia's death, McConnell escalated his language of "no" by refusing even to consider any Obama Supreme Court nomination. Garland waited 11 months without a hearing. McConnell and the Republicans who've been in control of the Senate since 2014 for all practical purposes stole that Supreme Court nomination and handed it to Trump, who promptly plucked the name of Neil Gorsuch off the conservatives' list.
When Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, after the 2016 election, suggested that Democrats would try to fight fire with fire for any Donald Trump high court nominees, McConnell made another stunning pronouncement: "The American people simply will not tolerate" a Democratic block to a Trump Supreme Court nominee. The senate then quickly confirmed Gorsuch and later the flawed Brett Kavanaugh.
On Saturday, even before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was laid to rest the following Tuesday, the GOP judge train fast-tracked Barrett. Never mind that only about a month is left before the 2020 presidential election, and Trump is trailing in the polls.
McConnell outdid himself, vowing the Senate will vote on Trump's Supreme Court nominee by the end of the year, and South Carolina's Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the judiciary committee and a staunch Trump ally, one-upped McConnell, setting Barrett's confirmation hearings for four consecutive days beginning Oct. 12. That cuts the time to prepare for the hearings by about two-thirds of what has been customary for other recent confirmations. Full Senate hearings could begin Oct. 22, and a vote could be held on Oct. 29. If the GOP has its way, this nominee will be confirmed just a week before Election Day.
McConnell and Graham — both up for re-election in November — should never stand outside or even in a room with a window during a thunderstorm. Surely, lightning would strike them for their bald hypocrisy.
Some Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, think that lightning might be voters if Republicans confirm Barrett, as that would all but assure that Obamacare and its protections for people with pre-existing conditions will be overturned. Abortion rights, too, could be history.
At 48, Barrett, who clerked for Scalia and shares his views of the law, would be the youngest justice on the court, and with a lifetime appointment she could help shape the law for decades to come. With an unwavering conservative voting record in cases that touch on abortion, gun rights, discrimination and immigration, she is ideological opposite of the late Ginsburg, who led the court's liberal wing.
"They [Republicans] will be seeing elections that look exactly like 2018 over and over again," Pelosi said, referring to the "blue wave" of voting that netted 41 seats and turned the House majority back to the Democrats. Thirty-three of 100 Senate seats are on the ballot this year, and 34 seats will be on the ballot in 2022, including at least 20 held by Republicans.
Senate Democrats, for now still locked in as the minority party, are basically powerless to stop this bullet train, but they intend to use the fight to stoke outrage about the threatened loss of abortion rights and Affordable Care Act protections to help them reclaim the presidency and the Senate majority.
And, you know, it just might. Affordable health care and women's reproductive rights are strong cards to play.