News & Politics

Triggered: WaPo Imagines McConnell Confirming Judges 'on a Throne of Skulls'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has helped President Donald Trump confirm originalist judges who will uphold the plain meaning of the Constitution, reversing a decades-long trend of activist judges twisting the founding document to push pet projects like abortion and same-sex marriage. The idea that McConnell would keep restoring the American judiciary in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic was so horrible for The Washington Post‘s Alexandra Petri to contemplate that she published a hilarious dystopian op-ed about McConnell “on a throne of skulls.”

“The sky was a dark, angry red. The sun was not visible and had not been visible for a long time. There were no longer any rhinoceroses whatsoever. There were exactly three birds. The halls of Congress were empty except for John Quincy Adams’ ghost and one hoarse buzzard perched on a cracked torso in Statuary Hall. And Mitch McConnell was still confirming judges,” Petri wrote.

No, this isn’t The Onion or The Babylon Bee. This is The Washington Post. Sure, this satire is in the “opinion” section, but it isn’t clearly marked as satire… Where’s the satire police at Snopes when you need them?

Petri based her satire on a comment McConnell gave her in an interview. She had asked whether he would keep confirming judges during the pandemic. “We will go back to judges,” he told her. “My motto for the rest of the year is ‘leave no vacancy behind.'”

Given the state of the American judiciary and the need to return to an originalist view of the Constitution, that seems reasonable — so long as judicial confirmations do not take precedence over providing necessary relief to Americans during the crisis. The Senate already passed the $2 trillion stimulus bill, for example.

Yet Petri decided to dial up the drama to eleven and leap into satire — and I must confess, she actually made me laugh.

Someone crawled toward him through the dust on hands and knees. “Why?” creaked forth from his chapped lips. “Mitch, why?” It might have been Chuck Grassley. No one could say. There was no one there to say. …

Surely there had been a reason long ago. Power, or the desire for power, or the desire to build a legacy. Or a judicial vacancy had gravely insulted his father. Or he had been told by a sea-witch that if he just confirmed a hundred judges to lifetime appointments, his brothers would all be restored to their human form. Or was it 200? He had forgotten. He had to keep confirming them. There would be no vacancies.

Once there had been other things to do with this power that might have helped people in their brief spans on the globe. Those things were all gone. All that remained was vacancy, and Mitch McConnell was determined to fill it with judges.

What was a judge? Where would the judge sit? What would the judge uphold or overturn? Why did any of it matter? It was not even very clear what he was confirming, except that he was confirming something and would continue to do so even after the sun burned out and the whole world was cast into ice and shadow.

Petri’s satirical prose aims to illustrate the absurdity of trying to get judges confirmed in the midst of a pandemic, but it only shows just how little she understands about the need for originalism. When judges can just willy-nilly reinterpret the Constitution to say whatever they want it to say, they are effectively seizing unlimited power — the kind of power she seems to think McConnell is after.

It would be ideal if liberals and Democrats also advocated for their policies in the context of originalism. For instance, they could support a constitutional amendment redefining marriage as between two men or two women, in addition to the traditional definition the Founders and succeeding generations of lawmakers used when dealing with marriage. Instead, they circumvented the people and the Constitution’s own stipulations on how it should be amended in order to create a right to “dignity” that became a right to same-sex marriage.

Restoring originalism is not some Republican power grab, as reporters like Petri seem to think. It is about resetting the playing field in order to protect the liberties of all Americans from a government that would redefine the terms of the contract by which that government has power.

McConnell’s confirmations are not about taking power at the cost of millions dead, as Petri’s satire playfully suggests. All the same, it brings me no little chuckle to see Ricochet’s Jon Gabriel post a pictorial representation of Petri’s dystopia.

May Mitch McConnell proudly stand atop his throne of skulls for years to come.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.