A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Sometimes seismic changes in American life happen with a crack, a bang, an explosion in the sky. Other times they happen through a final breath, a vote, a whisper. Monday’s ascendance of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court was the latter. President Trump just hosted a nighttime swearing-in for Barrett on the South Lawn of the White House, reminiscent of his Republican National Convention address there two months ago, and his return home from Walter Reed three weeks ago. For Trump’s detractors, it felt like it was happening under the cover of darkness; for his supporters, it felt like a prime time TV celebration.
“It’s a really, really big deal,” Dana Perino said on Fox earlier in the evening, before the Senate officially voted to confirm. “And it’s kind of happening with just a whisper.”
She was right. But why? Is it because the liberal media wanted to deprive Trump and the GOP of attention for a big victory? No, I think it’s for more benign reasons. The confirmation of ACB was a fait accompli from the moment it was a possibility — which stripped the proceedings of most of their news value. The process was never shaken by shocking charges or controversy, a la the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing. There was never a moment when the outcome was in doubt. As Matt Ford wrote, “Some Republican senators said they would support the confirmation even before President Donald Trump selected a nominee.”
Some other reasons for the “whisper,” as Perino put it, include political fatigue (“everyone is just exhausted,” Oliver Darcy said in a text to me just now) and the pandemic. Much of CNN’s TV coverage about the SCOTUS vote on Monday was framed around Covid-19, noting that the White House’s introduction of Barrett was an apparent “super-spreader” event, and that the WH was staging another large event for her swearing-in. Anderson Cooper said that “what his supporters might see as a triumph by the president,” the reshaping of the Supreme Court, “is infected, literally, in this case, by his greatest and most consequential failure.”
A “far-right victory”
Going back to Fox’s coverage for a moment, the tone was largely celebratory, but Juan Williams did sneak this in during “The Five” at 5pm: “The reason they” — Republicans — are corrupting the process and rushing her onto the bench… is because they can accomplish what they can’t do politically, which is to overturn the Affordable Health Care Act, to overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion rights in this country. That’s what’s going on here.”
Fox’s Laura Ingraham was in attendance at the South Lawn swearing-in, and then hosted her 10pm program from the North Lawn. “Historic night tonight,” she told Sean Hannity during the hand-off. Third justice on the court for President Trump. Pretty cool, I’ve gotta say. That’s a big one!” The banner on her show said “TRUMP SCORES MASSIVE WIN WITH BARRETT CONFIRMATION…”
Nina Totenberg’s view
NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is the newest guest on David Axelrod’s Axe Files podcast. She talked about the confirmation process, the fate of the ACA, Roe v. Wade, the politicization of the Supreme Court, and more. Quoting from her comments about the consequences of the judicial wars: “It breaks my heart to say this, but I think there’ll be a lot less respect, actually from both sides, for the court, because it will be viewed as more partisan. And I always had a lot of faith that the court was institutionally sound — and that even though I personally might not like this opinion or that opinion, the court as an institution would continue, would not really change dramatically and would continue to be sort of a bulwark of stability for democracy. And I’m afraid that’s really in jeopardy now.”
She added: “Chief Justice Rehnquist used to say that an independent judiciary is the… jewel in the crown of American democracy. And we are losing that through these partisan wars over the court.”