Owen Lavine is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
Washington is where the wishes of the American voter dies and the wishes of the ruling class is born. The phrase, “follow the money,” is no more applicable in Washington DC than anywhere else in the world. Big votes and leadership battles are massive ad-buying and fundraising events for members of congress, especially the once in a blue-moon Supreme Court nomination.
With Justice Stephen Breyer signaling his resignation from the court, the battle for a new Supreme Court nominee has reached the Senate floor.
Donald Trump opened his presidency in 2017 with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme court. This was the first successful nomination to the court after senate Republicans had revised the filibuster to allow a simple majority to elect Supreme Court Justices.
Under the Obama administration, Republicans had used the filibuster to deny President Barack Obama’s nomination of “liberal” Judge Merrick Garland. This failed nomination tipped the scale of the court in favor of the conservative justices when Gorsuch assumed the court the following year.
While Republicans already maintained a 51 vote majority in the senate at the time, three democrats would come along with them in voting Gorusch onto the court: Hiedi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). Heitkamp, Donnelly and Manchin took a huge risk and the backlash from liberal media was immense. They lost a huge amount of support among democrats nationally and within their states’.
The intention of the votes were to mitigate any possibility of Republicans running against them in the following year’s senate election, as they were all located in highly purple districts. What they did not foresee was Justice Anthony Kennedy resigning from the court in late June of 2018. This left the three senators in a compromising position: either they take the yes vote again to avoid a primary challenger or attempt a no vote and hope they regain lost support from Democrats.
In the interim, Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a conservative Judicial Group, would run a $1 million ad campaign in North Dakota, Indiana and West Virginia which intended to hold said senators’ feet to the fire over the coming Supreme Court nomination. Donnelly and Hietkamp took the no vote and were subsequently voted out of the Senate. Manchin on the other hand voted yes and was spared. His political calculation was correct. Manchin learned his lesson: don’t mess with Republicans on Supreme Court nominations. They will primary you.
Is that to say there was no way to avoid winning that primary or effectively fighting a challenger? Absolutely not. However, when the majority of people in your ears are other Republican senators, conservative lobbyists and a group dedicated to getting you to vote with Republicans it’s no wonder his options looked slim. Manchin would go onto vote with the Republicans 25% of the time during Trump’s administration, which was more than any Democrat.
While it may be more understandable to vote in line with the opposing party when you are in the minority, your party does not control the presidency and it’s an election year, Manchin’s trend of voting with Republicans has carried into the Biden presidency. Most recently, Manchin has acted as a filibuster towards the Build Back Better reconciliation legislation where a simple majority of democrats was required. Manchin also raised $1.6 million in donations from conservative and corporate super PACs as he opposed the reconciliation bill. Manchin is in no fear of losing his Senate seat, as he is two years out of an election, so fundraising should not be a priority for him. In early 2021, during the heat of the first congressional battle over the John Lewis voting rights Act, Manchin traveled to Texas to have a fundraiser with Republican donors. Coincidentally, after the 150 person dinner where guests were encouraged to donate $5,000 to Manchin’s reelection campaign and $5,800 to his Country Roads super PAC, Manchin brought “compromise” voting rights legislation to the Senate floor. More recently, when the congressional voting rights battle flared up again, Manchin stood against a filibuster reform that would allow voting rights to be passed with a simple majority.
Manchin is not a good-faith actor. He is bought and owned by Corporate America. Either they threaten to unseat him by running ads in his district or they give him the carrot and dump millions into his campaign coffers. Manchin is playing the long game; he is a careerist and wants to keep his senate seat.
So how does that factor into the current SCOTUS nomination? Well there’s three ways this could go: the Republican appetite is content with six conservative justices and they will let the Democrats put a new liberal judge on the court, sparing Manchin from a conservative ad campaign or a possible 2024 primary; the Republican appetite for more justices has not been quelled, seeing possible upcoming SCOTUS nominations in place of Justice John G. Roberts or Justice Clarence Thomas (Roberts nor Thomas have signaled their resignation. they are just old and 44.5% justices die while they are on the court), and getting another conservative on now could spare any possible future fight over a SCOTUS nominee; or do nothing, let Manchin make his own calculation and either reward or punish him later.
Ultimately, whether Manchin lives or dies or the new SCOTUS judge is a liberal or not is irrelevant. What this tale is truly about is the careerist, self-serving and unapologetically corrupt body that the Senate is.
Editor’s Note: The name of a justice was changed.