In 2016, Senate Republicans united to block President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the court, because the election was only eight months away. This year, people in some states already are voting as the nomination is put forward. Some Republicans pretend to see some distinction; others don’t even bother to pretend. The country will see it for what it is: a power grab without principle.
Mr. Trump and his Senate allies argue for extreme haste to ensure that a possible election loss does not affect their project to force a new ideological balance on the court. But it’s worse than that. The president himself has said he is counting on Judge Barrett’s hurried confirmation so that she can rule on what he appears to believe are the inevitable election disputes he will bring before the court. He has spoken in recent days about getting rid of “the ballots” and enlisting the court in stopping the Democrats’ voting “scam,” arguing that he needs a ninth justice of his choosing to ensure the court rules his way. Imagine the turmoil that would cause: A court hastily stacked with Trump nominees hands reelection to the president, based to a degree on his view that some Americans’ ballots should not count.
By acting with such supreme hypocrisy, Senate Republicans would substantially diminish not only their own tattered reputations but also the much more precious legitimacy of the court. Every time the justices handed down a conservative ruling, vast swaths of the country would not accept the result. And the anger will be tenfold greater if this new, packed court delivers the presidency to Mr. Trump under questionable circumstances.
Both parties are complicit in the race to the bottom that has corroded the judicial confirmation process over the past two decades. But Senate Republicans’ abandonment of their own Garland principle would represent a singularly dangerous step down, after which recovery might be impossible. Are there not four Republican senators, which is all it would take, with sufficient conscience or care for the country?