Question for today: What exactly is the difference between the way Poland’s autocratic rulers have disabled its Supreme Court and the way the Republicans have taken over the U.S. courts?
Poland, where the governing party has an absolute majority in Parliament, is in trouble with the leaders of the European Union and many of its own outraged citizens for jamming through a measure requiring mandatory retirement at 65 for Supreme Court justices. This thinly disguised coup will force the ouster of some 27 of 72 sitting justices, and turn the Court into a rubber stamp, removing the last obstacle to full dictatorship.
In the U.S., Republicans under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pursued a policy of blocking as many Obama judicial appointments as possible, slowing the process way down, and bargaining with the administration to appoint more centrist nominees as a condition of agreeing to a vote at all. This was in sharp contrast to the way Democrats treated appointees of President George W. Bush, when only the most extreme nominees were challenged.
When a Supreme Court seat came open after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, McConnell pursued the unprecedented course of simply refusing to act on Obama’s nomination of the relatively moderate appellate judge Merrick Garland. As a consequence, Trump got to fill a seat that was rightfully Obama’s.
So, what is the difference between destruction of an independent judiciary in Poland and the U.S.? Mainly, timing. In Poland, the coup has been abrupt. In the U.S., it has been a slow roll. The outcome isn’t that different—hijacked, politicized courts.