First of all, we need to review some well-understood basics: Democrats want there to be more liberal justices on the Supreme Court, and Republicans want there to be more conservative justices. That reality is very simple. It fits in with the fact that members of each party want their respective party to be in power in all branches of the government. On that level, it could be said that it’s all about power.
Of course, ideology fits in with power, because each party has a set of ideological beliefs, and members of each party tend to believe that their party’s ideological beliefs are absolutely right. What is more, they also believe that their ideological beliefs represent “the will of the people,” even when that notion is contradicted by the polls, because both parties have their ways of explaining away each other’s popular support.
With regard to ideology, Democrats want the right to an abortion to be secure in all 50 states, they want Obamacare to stay in existence even while one key part of it has been repealed, and they want a host of other policies associated with the word “liberal” to prevail. Republicans want otherwise. So members of each party feel justified in their efforts to influence the ideological configuration of the Supreme Court
But there’s a really big question today: How are the Republicans able, now, to justify confirming Trump’s choice for the vacant seat on the Court after what they did in 2016? It should be remembered that back in 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, the Senate Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings for Obama’s choice to fill that vacancy. Their stated justification at the time had nothing to do with parties: They said that because it was an election year, it should be left to the new president to fill that seat the following year. Senator Lindsay Graham actually said “use my words against me,” referring to precisely the scenario that we have now. Here he is on video.
But this year, Lindsay Graham and the other Republicans don’t seem worried about having their words used against them or seeming hypocritical. How do they justify this: Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader who led the refusal to consider Obama’s choice in 2016, justifies his current actions by interpreting the 2018 midterm elections, in which the Republicans kept their majority in the Senate (though they lost it in the House), as a vote of approval for having the Republicans decide who should be on the Court. Article in Politico, September 21, 2020.
What also needs to be remembered is that the Republicans have a whole other way of justifying their efforts to control the Court: They regard conservative justices as more faithful to the Constitution, and regard liberal justices are tending to disregard the Constitution and just make up any laws and case-law doctrines that they feel like making up. They thus feel that they are protecting the Constitution by doing all the maneuvering it takes to maximize the number of conservatives on the Court. This point comes through in the remarks of Ted Cruz, in an interview with Steve Inskeep on NPR Tuesday morning, September 29, 2020.
But no matter how your spin it, it is really hard to dispute that the Republicans in the Senate are not holding to the position they claimed to take in 2016. It can be said that the Democrats have flip-flopped as well, but really, all the Democrats are doing is asking the Republicans to follow their own precedent. It should also be noted that Scalia died ten months before the election of 2016 and that Ginsburg died just six weeks before the formal date of this year’s election.
It’s about power, but both parties consider themselves justified in claiming that power and doing whatever it takes to get it and keep it.
Final note: You should also be paying attention to the stories about the specifics with regard to Trump’s choice, Amy Coney Barrett. To put it in brief, she is exactly what the conservatives want and everything the liberals don’t want.