Mitch McConnell is at war with Senate Democrats over the Supreme Court all over again.
The Senate majority leader and his 52 GOP colleagues sent a letter to the Supreme Court on Thursday pushing back against a Democratic amicus brief urging the court not to take up “political ‘projects” like a new challenge to New York City’s gun laws.
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Led by Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, five Democratic senators argued earlier this month that the case was part of a drive to install a conservative majority on the court and strike down gun laws. The Democrats closed their letter by suggesting that voters may eventually demand the Supreme Court be “restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics” if it continues on its current course.
McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Senate GOP said the effort “openly threatened this court with political retribution if it failed to dismiss the [New York] petition as moot.”
“The implication is as plain as day: Dismiss this case, or we’ll pack the court,” the Republicans wrote in the letter, first reported by the Washington Post, adding that they would fight against any restructuring plans.
“We share Justice Ginsburg’s view that ‘nine seems to be a good number,’ they said. “And it will remain that way as long as we are here.”
The letter to the court is the latest turn in the battle between McConnell and the Democratic minority over the fate of the Supreme Court.
McConnell blocked President Barack Obama from filling a vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, then confirmed President Donald Trump’s replacement Neil Gorsuch a year later after eliminating the filibuster for the Supreme Court nominees.
Last year, McConnell pushed through the controversial confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, who faced allegations of sexual assault. Kavanaugh is widely viewed as more conservative than his predecessor, Anthony Kennedy. McConnell has also said he would consider filling any vacancies ahead of the 2020 election as well, despite having blocked Obama’s pick in an election year.
Citing polling data showing concern about the Supreme Court being infused with politics, the rising influence of the conservative Federalist Society and the spate of 5-4 decisions on charged issues, the Democrats argued that “the Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it.”
Whitehouse’s brief was joined by Democratic Sens Dick Durbin of Illinois, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
The 53-member Senate Republican majority — from moderates like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski to conservatives like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul — agreed that “judicial independence is under assault,” but not from the right.
“Democrats in Congress, and on the presidential campaign trail, have peddled plans to pack this court with more justices in order to further their radical legislative agenda,” the senators wrote. “The Democrats’ amicus brief demonstrates that their court-packing plans are more than mere pandering. They are a direct, immediate threat to the independence of the judiciary and the rights of all Americans.”