Feb 28, 2024 - Politics & Policy

McConnell's legacy: Conservative courts for a generation

mitch mcconell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Jan. 31 in Washington, DC. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) tenure as the GOP Senate leader is coming to an end, but rulings from judges he helped confirm will be shaping American life for decades to come.

The big picture: The single moment McConnell might be most remembered for is preventing former President Obama from filling a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016. In the ensuing four years, McConnell joined forces with former President Trump to transform not just the Supreme Court but the entire federal judiciary.

Zoom out: Under McConnell's leadership, the Senate successfully confirmed three conservative Supreme Court justices and more than 200 lower-court judges, shifting the idealogical balance of the courts to the right.

  • McConnell has long viewed transforming the federal judiciary by confirming young conservative judges as his legacy, as the courts carry significant weight in almost every area of policy.
  • This has translated into landmark Supreme Court decisions overturning of Roe v. Wade, striking down affirmative action and favoring religious freedom over gay rights.
  • With a 6-3 court, including three conservative justices in their 50s, there could be decades more conservative rulings ahead.

Flashback: Eight years ago, it was the liberals that appeared poised to establish a majority on the court. Then McConnell blocked Obama nominee Merrick Garland from ever having a hearing.

  • McConnell argued at the time that the Senate and the presidency each belonged to different parties and the vacancy shouldn't be filled until the next president was inaugurated.
  • McConnell said years later, in 2019, that the decision not to fill Justice Antonin Scalia's vacancy was the "most consequential thing I've ever done" and among his proudest moments.
  • The vacancy was eventually filled by Trump, who appointed conservative Neil Gorsuch.

Go deeper: McConnell's exit haunted by poisonous relationship with Trump

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