By Stephanie Cutter
Ms. Cutter, a Democratic political strategist, was an adviser to President Barack Obama and coordinated the process that resulted in the nomination and confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She also was the executive producer of President Biden’s inauguration.
With Justice Stephen Breyer’s announcement that he will retire from the Supreme Court this summer, President Biden has a chance to take the landmark step of putting the first Black woman on the court, while shaping the future of jurisprudence. Thanks to President Donald Trump and the former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, there is a new set of rules in place for Supreme Court nominations that all but guarantees Democrats will succeed.
Unless of course, we mess it up.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the court, our team shepherded the nominee through the halls of the Senate for courtesy calls with 89 senators, most of whom waited to announce their intended vote until the Judiciary Committee did its work in vetting and questioning her. Not until that process was complete could they take the measure of her fitness to serve on the court.
Those days are gone. Mr. Biden shouldn’t look to the process we followed in the Sotomayor nomination. Instead, he should look to the nomination and confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Over Mr. Trump’s term, Republicans distilled the Supreme Court nomination process to pure politics. Instead of spending weeks scrutinizing a nominee’s rulings and parsing legal intricacies for potential hearing questions, they simply rubber-stamped Mr. Trump’s picks. Even before Mr. Trump announced his nominee to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, declared that he had enough votes to confirm any nominee in both the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor.
And within minutes of the president’s nomination of Judge Barrett, Republican senators began to declare their support for her. Thirty-eight days after Justice Ginsburg died, her successor was confirmed. The process exemplified one of the defining features of the modern Republican Party: its laser focus on the judiciary and its extraordinary discipline in filling seats when its members control the Senate — or blocking confirmations when they do not.
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