Obama nominates Judge Merrick Garland to Supreme Court

Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, right, stands with President Barack Obama as he is introduced as Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court during a March 2016 announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House.

In recent years, Senate Republicans have had a particular focus on increasing conservative influence on the nation’s judicial system.

The saga began in 2016, when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court, saying the nomination should be left not to the sitting president, but to the winner of a presidential election several months from happening.

“A president on his way out of the White House should not make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court,” Wyoming Senator John Barrasso said at the time. “The American people will soon decide our next president. That person should get to choose the next Supreme Court nominee. Give the people a voice, and let them chart the course for the court and the country.”

Despite protests from Democrats, the delay paid off for conservatives. That fall, Republican Donald Trump was victorious, giving Senate Republicans the room they needed to flood the nation’s court system with nearly 150 young, conservative judges aligned with their ideology – a trend anticipated to reshape the nation’s justice system for years to come – something Mitch McConnell has claimed to have saved the nation’s court system “for a generation.”

“We are going to work to continue to nominate and confirm conservative judges who will be on the court for a long time,” Barrasso said at an event in Newcastle last November.

Democrats, however, have begun to push back. When the newly conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court announced earlier this summer to hear a gun case for the first time in nearly 10 years, several Senate Democrats filed an amicus brief demanding the court dismiss the case, arguing the court’s conservative majority’s decision to hear the case was politically influenced.

If the court didn’t reverse course, Democrats hinted they may push back politically.

“The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it,” the brief read. “Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.’”

Politically-motivated approaches to defining the judicial system are nothing new in American politics; Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in order to open the gate for his New Deal programs in the late-30s, attempted to “pack” the courts with judges philosophically favorable to his legislation. For Republicans, however, this thinly veiled threat from Democrats differed greatly from their appointment of an abundance of conservative judges to lifetime court appointments: it signified a fundamental restructuring of the justice system for the sake of politics.

“The Supreme Court should rule in cases only as the law dictates, without regard to the identity of the parties or politics of the moment,” Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi said in a tweet last week.

“Judicial independence is not negotiable,” a letter from all 53 Republican members of the Senate – including Enzi and Barrasso – condemning the move read.

Pressed on their position, however, spokespersons for both senators declined to provide an answer on whether the stated political motivations of Democrats – and the demonstrated motivations of Republicans – were different in principle.

“The letter clearly lays out the issue at hand,” Max D’Onofrio, Enzi’s communications director, wrote in an email. “It is concerning that a group of senators essentially told the court to dismiss a case, or we’ll restructure the Supreme Court. This letter is about protecting and ensuring judicial independence, a foundation of our Constitution and something that should be supported by both parties.”

Spokespersons for both senators emphasized that the Republicans’ moves to appoint judges to already vacant positions was far different than “restructuring the court” – which was never clearly defined in the brief – though Republicans like Barrasso have been explicit in holding the line for conservatives to the extent of their legal ability.

“This unprecedented and extraordinary threat is different from the Senate fulfilling its constitutional duty to fill existing judicial vacancies,” Laura Mengelkamp, a Barrasso spokesperson, said in an email.

The Week Ahead

Monday: Labor Day.

Tuesday: Gov. Mark Gordon will speak at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Stormwater Filtration System at Jackson Hole Airport. Natural Resource Funding Committee meets in Pinedale.

Wednesday: Air Transportation Committee meets in Jackson.

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Thursday: Gordon will provide opening remarks at the Wyoming Suicide Prevention Symposium in Cheyenne. Agriculture Committee meets in Cheyenne. A special committee on spent fuel rod storage will convene in Casper. Management Council meets in Cheyenne.

Friday: Gordon and the First Lady will attend the CASA of Laramie County Red Shoe Fundraising Dinner in Cheyenne.

Weekend: None.

Have an event you’d like highlighted here? Email me with the date, time, and place!

Wyoming Politics

Opposition to detention center strong at event in Evanston: More than 200 individuals from around the state made the trip to Evanston to protest the potential construction of a detention facility for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, in Uinta County. (via the Uinta County Herald)

Expert says bill requiring report of mental illness to firearms dealers based on fear: The CEO of the Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center said a proposed bill that would require mental illness adjudications be reported to firearm dealers is a response based on fear, and would rob the mentally ill of their freedom to purchase firearms.

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Wyoming is one of few states that does not require information about mental illness be reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in compliance with the Gun Control Act of 1968, which bans people with certain mental illness from purchasing firearms. (via The Sheridan Press)

Jackson Hole fundraiser for Trump nets $1 million: In the first of three presidential candidate fundraisers in Teton County this week, a team of high-profile Republican politicians and donors held a dinner several weeks ago for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. (via The Jackson Hole News & Guide)

Around Wyoming

Fear and Loathing in Jackson Hole: The global economy may yet turn out fine; most economic data in the United States has been solid. But if a recession and breakdown in international commerce happens in the coming year, histories of the episode may well spend a chapter on the Friday collision of official actions in the government offices of Beijing, in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming and in the Oval Office. (via The New York Times)

Uinta County School district sued again over gun policy: Uinta County School District No. 1 has again been sued over Rule CKA, which allows for approved staff to carry concealed firearms on district property. (via the Uinta County Herald)

UFOs reported south of town — officers find nothing: Law enforcement officers were unable to identify — or even find — some UFOs that were reported in the Powell area earlier this month. (via The Powell Tribune)

Teton County developer says newspaper coverage tarnished jury pool in wrongful death trial: Local developer Jamie Mackay says he can’t get a fair trial in Teton County because he’s “a well-known public figure” and has been the subject of 36 newspaper articles in the Jackson Hole News & Guide over the past 12 years. (via The Jackson Hole News & Guide)

Eye On Washington

John Barrasso travelled to several events throughout the state, including a health fair in Lusk and to the Boys and Girls Club of Central Wyoming’s annual awards breakfast in his home of Casper.

Mike Enzi began gearing up for his annual Inventor’s Conference, which will be held Sept. 21 at Western Wyoming Community College in Evanston.

Liz Cheney had a pretty quiet week as the House recess continues on, though she did go fishing with her father on the South Fork River last weekend.

Have any tips or suggestions to make this newsletter better? Let me know! Call me at 307-266-0634, email me at nick.reynolds@trib.com or follow me on Twitter, <&underline>@IAmNickReynolds</&underline>

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Politics Reporter

Nick Reynolds covers state politics and policy. A native of Central New York, he has spent his career covering governments big and small, and several Congressional campaigns. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2015.

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