This is how a superspreader event unfolds
02:11 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Jeremy Paris, the executive director of the Committee for a Fair Judiciary and a principal at The Raben Group, was chief counsel for Nominations and Oversight of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2008-2013. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

The pandemic that President Donald Trump has so profoundly failed to manage now threatens his administration’s top priority: installing Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court.

Jeremy Paris

The White House ceremony where Trump announced the nomination may have been a Covid-19 superspreader event, with at least 12 attendees later testing positive for the virus. Two Republican members of the Judiciary Committee – North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Utah Sen. Mike Lee – who will consider the nomination are among those who have been infected.

In light of these cases, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham’s plans to start hearings next week are perilous. Moving forward with the nomination at this time and speed tramples on transparency, democracy and respect for the will of the millions of people already voting throughout the country. Given that several Republican senators met with the nominee, some in person and without masks, moving forward with the hearing isn’t just misguided – it’s reckless.

The Judiciary Committee, which met last week, has already jeopardized the health and well-being of senators, their staff and the scores of hardworking people who make Capitol Hill run, including Capitol police, custodians and clerks. Graham and the rest of the committee must not put them at risk by repeating that mistake on an even bigger scale.

As one of the lead staffers who was responsible for six Supreme Court hearings, I know what a huge undertaking and duty this is. Senators and staff should strive to make the process transparent and accessible to journalists and the American people – as well as fair to the nominee and the advocates who both oppose and support her. The entire nomination process should be conducted with thoroughness and care on behalf of the nearly 330 million Americans who will have no direct say in whether Barrett is confirmed, despite the decades she could spend on the bench making life or death decisions that affect us all.

The need to safeguard the health and safety of our leaders calls for a halt in the Supreme Court proceedings. Respect for democracy and for the legacy of RBG, which Barrett has been apparently hand-picked to undermine, demands one.

Yet, according to recent reports, Graham and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insist that these hearings will happen come hell or high water, even though Senate Republicans have refused to take up additional relief for Americans trying to pay rent, educate their kids, keep their businesses open and seek medical care during the pandemic.

There is nothing comparable in the modern history of the Senate. Republicans are seeking to fast-track a process that takes, on average, about 70 days, with less than a month to go before a national election, and hold hearings, debates and votes during a pandemic that has upended nearly every sector of American life.

Now that the pandemic is not only at the Senate’s doorsteps, but within its chambers, Graham and McConnell might not have enough healthy Republican senators to make a quorum or win votes in the committee or the full Senate. The potential of missing senators adds a degree of procedural difficulty to the Republican high wire act, reducing, if not eliminating their advantage in numbers. (Sen. Ron Johnson, who has also tested positive for Covid-19, said he would do everything he can to vote for Barrett, even if it means turning up in the Senate in a “moon suit.”)

Democratic senators should make use of all of the rules they can to stand in the way of this nomination. Doing so is not an act of discourtesy or political theater – it is their responsibility as senators to refuse to participate in an unconscionable power grab which would hurt the people they are elected to serve.

Republicans can still push this nomination through – but that doesn’t mean they should. And their extreme haste, even in the face of an infectious virus, must be called out. This is an attempt to override the will of American voters, most of whom believe whoever wins the presidential election should make this pick.

It is an attempt to put a new justice on the bench to overturn Roe v. Wade and accomplish what Trump promised and failed to do – take away health care for millions by striking down the Affordable Care Act. It seems to be an attempt to potentially decide an election if Trump, whose campaign has filed multiple lawsuits to stop the expansion of voting by mail or use of ballot drop boxes, decides to challenge the results of the election in court.

The majority of Americans don’t want to see the Supreme Court overturn the Affordable Care Act or Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, Federal Reserve officials warned that an economic recovery would be much slower without a stimulus bill.

But it seems McConnell and his Republican caucus do not care what the American people think – what they care about is their own ability to control the government and the nation’s political agenda through the Supreme Court and lower federal courts. Republican senators refused to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Now, despite many of their own claims in 2016 about respecting the will of the people and holding off on a nomination until after the elections, they will try to force this nomination of Barrett.

It would take just a handful of Republican senators to stop this farce by refusing to take up a vote. Since appeals to conscience and courage have not worked so far, we need to appeal to their hopes for political survival. Do they want to go down with this degraded ship?

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    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer set the right tone when he said, “Let me be clear: if Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year.”

    If Democrats manage to win control of both the White House and the Senate in November, they must use the painful lesson of this illegitimate Supreme Court nomination as a call to action to restore the courts and repair our democracy.