U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is laser-focused on one thing: a complete conservative capture of the courts. And on Monday, after the Senate confirmed John Badalamenti to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, he’s one step closer.
Badalamenti’s confirmation sailed through with little fanfare by a 55-22 vote, with 11 Democrats joining Republicans. Like so many of Trump’s appointees, Badalamenti is a member of the Federalist Society, a cabal of conservative lawyers who have had their fingers in the judicial pie for decades. But he is a former public defender—one of the few public defenders Trump has tapped for the federal bench—so there’s not much to complain about, relatively speaking.
Yes, he’s a self-described constitutional originalist, and yes, he ascribes to the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ philosophy that a judge’s job is to “call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.” Taken together, that means we can expect pretty straightforward conservative stances. But at least he’s practiced law before, which is more than I can say for some Trump judges. Hell, he’s even argued before the Supreme Court.
That McConnell is rushing through these nominations in the middle of a global pandemic and nationwide protests against police brutality, while the police and military unleash hell on peaceful protesters, shows he might be a tad nervous about the November election.
The ongoing disaster that is Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic—hey, why not try drinking bleach!—and to the Black Lives Matter protest—I’m gonna shoot all the looting “THUGS” in Minneapolis!—is enough to cause even the most stoic politician to soil his pants.
That stoic politician is McConnell.
McConnell realizes his time is running out: Trump’s reelection prospects are on increasingly shaky ground. So while he has the power to force votes on judicial appointments, he’s going to use it. If that means calling Senate Democrats back to D.C. in the middle of a pandemic to vote on whatever right-wing ideologue the Federalist Society has chosen to ascend to the bench, then that’s what he’s going to do.
Badalamenti, after all, was hardly the first Trump judge to be appointed during our current moment of chaos. On the same day in May, Anna Manasco was confirmed to be a judge for the Northern District of Alabama, and John Heil III was confirmed to be a judge for the Northern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Oklahoma.
Will McConnell work with Senate Democrats to pass another COVID-19 stimulus bill? Well maybe, but not unless the relief measure includes liability protection for doctors and businesses. Wouldn’t want the employees who are being forced to go back to work because of the government’s anemic financial response to catastrophic unemployment rates to be able to sue those responsible: doctors who clear them of the virus or employers who refuse to enact worker safety measures like provision of masks and social distancing.
McConnell and his Republican cohorts are pushing to reopen the economy despite the fact that very little has changed over the past few months: We still don’t have widespread and available testing, nor do we have a national contact tracing effort in place. They know people are going to get sick. And they don’t want people to have a remedy in the courts if they do.
Will McConnell work with Senate Democrats on police reform or a resolution? Confirming the right to assemble? Certainly not. In fact, on Tuesday McConnell blocked a resolution introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that would have condemned Trump’s use of tear gas and rubber bullets against the peaceful protesters at St. John’s Church the night before.
Trump unleashed federal officers, who tear-gassed priests to make room for a staged photo-op during which he held up a Bible in his hand so awkwardly, it seemed as if he’d never held, much less read, a book before. But in McConnell’s view, no one cares about condemning Trump for his violent actions: “Outside of the Washington, D.C., bubble, there is no universe where Americans think Democrats’ obsession with condemning President Trump is a more urgent priority than ending the riots or advancing racial justice,” he said, according to Axios.
The truth is, McConnell doesn’t care about racial justice—the very idea is laughable. Confirming Trump’s 197th federal judge to a lifetime appointment? That’s what sends a tingle down McConnell’s leg.
McConnell’s focus is marching ever onward in his quest to fill the judiciary with numpties handpicked by the Federalist Society so that when it’s finally time for him to take his permanent dirt nap, he can head to the gates of heaven—or hell, depending upon your point of view—knowing he ensured the nation’s courts would be captured by conservatives for a generation.