The Grim Reaper of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, should relinquish his leadership role. He has failed to support the Constitution, the rule of law and the best interests of our country. He has tarnished the reputation of the Senate, wreaked havoc on our civil society and diminished the credibility of an institution I cherish — our courts.
Americans believe in the rule of law. We have a deeply embedded commitment to honor and uphold our Constitution. McConnell has failed to uphold these historic ideals. He promotes policies and person(s) that diminish our valued traditions. His lack of integrity, his hypocrisy and his inability to be candid constitute an amoral abuse of power. He appears to have lost his soul when, as a nation, we are engaged in a struggle to preserve ours.
Nicknames capture some of McConnell’s shortcomings. Three readily come to mind: The Grim Reaper, Moscow Mitch and Rich Mitch. McConnell has embraced the title Grim Reaper. He brags about killing legislation passed by the House. He thwarts efforts to extend an economic lifeline to citizens in need because of the pandemic. His tactics are clever and cunning. He has mastered the arcane rules of the Senate and in the process rendered the “world’s greatest deliberative body” dysfunctional.
McConnell has also earned the Grim Reaper title for a more contemptible reason. His actions have resulted in the unnecessary deaths of many Americans. The federal government has failed to properly address the coronavirus pandemic. President Trump and McConnell, as his enabler, must shoulder much of the blame for this failure as COVID-19 rages out of control and the death toll mounts. At best, their actions can be described as benign neglect. A more apt descriptor may be malfeasance.
Had McConnell and the President acted responsibly, tens of thousands of mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, health workers and first responders would be alive today. When confronted with his failings during a recent debate, McConnell’s response was to flash his classic smirk and laugh.
Moscow Mitch also describes McConnell well. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not our friend. He is an autocrat who uses suppression and assassination to maintain power. He is a foe of our democracy who seeks to subvert our elections. He did the latter in 2016 and 2018 and tried to do it again in 2020.
Unfortunately, Putin appears to have found an ally in McConnell. The Senate had the opportunity to make an inquiry into and render judgment on the extent of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. But McConnell blocked efforts to present testimony, documentary evidence and other relevant information. He said he had already made up his mind and saw no need to hear the evidence. Imagine your response if as a litigant you went to court and were met with a similar response from the judge.
Rich Mitch is another moniker that fits McConnell well. He entered Congress as a person of modest means, yet today he stands out as one of its richest members. This result should be of concern. It is fair to ask whether he has been paying undue attention to his personal financial agenda as opposed to that of our country. Public service is a privilege, not a means to acquire wealth. McConnell appears to have lost sight of this.
This partial list of McConnell’s failures provides ample grounds for him to relinquish power, but there are two more reasons why I write. Service as a state supreme court justice has taught me about the need for a democracy to have a fair, impartial and independent judiciary. Courts must have integrity and credibility. McConnell has done much to undermine these attributes.
Persons who appear in court must believe they had a fair hearing and that wealth, influence and/or politics did not determine the result. Alexander Hamilton wisely said that an independent judiciary is “requisite to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals” from the effects of “ill humors which . . . sometimes emanate from the people themselves.” Courts must enforce the rule of law, protect the best interests of the people, and provide balance and stability for our society.
McConnell has put a heavy political thumb on the scales of justice. He has blocked the appointment of highly qualified court nominees and pushed through underqualified but “ideologically pure” nominees. He pushed the most recent Supreme Court nomination through the Senate with a lack of scrutiny that is unprecedented in modern times. This nominee stands out for being confirmed to a lifetime appointment on our highest court without receiving a single vote from the minority party in the Senate. To be credible, Supreme Court appointments must have some bipartisan support. This abuse of power will only stop if McConnell is no longer behind the curtain pulling the strings.
My second reason centers on patriotic duty. McConnell and I share a common Scots-Irish heritage. My grandfather taught my sister and me what it means to be Scots-Irish. We love our country. We are patriotic. We must be willing to make sacrifices to serve it. We are not “losers” or “suckers” because of our belief in public service. We helped shape America and believe that the ability of all persons to pursue happiness is an essential part of the country’s greatness. Our leaders must provide the maximum opportunity for the maximum number of people to achieve happiness. McConnell has lost sight of what we stand for. He has embraced an elitist philosophy that benefits the few, the wealthy and the powerful.
The election of Joe Biden means our country will embark upon a new era of leadership. If the two Georgia Senate seats are decided as most pundits predict, Republicans will retain control of the Senate. This means McConnell will likely return as Majority Leader. Does this mean we are destined to endure more gridlock and dysfunction from the Senate? Dare we hope for something better?
The election results in Georgia are uncertain, and there is a slight chance a few Senate Republicans will have the wisdom and courage to put loyalty to country above loyalty to McConnell. There is also a scintilla of possibility that McConnell will work with President-elect Biden. Where there is uncertainty, there is room for optimism. Where optimism exists, there is room for hope. We can hope for a good result in Georgia. We can hope some Republican Senators will work with Biden. We can hope that McConnell will put national interest above his narrow partisan and personal agendas.
There is a clear path for how he can do the latter. He can focus on the “legacy question.” McConnell and I are both in our late 70s. At this stage of a public service career, we often face a question put to us by a grandchild, a niece or nephew or a mentee. The question is: “What did you do to make the world better.”
Will he say: I accumulated great power, but did not use it well; facilitated the demise of America’s middle class; deprived persons of health coverage during a pandemic; stacked the courts with ideologues; sat on the sidelines when a pandemic ran rampant; condoned practices that separated children from their parents and put them in cages; enriched an elite few and myself at the expense of others?
We must hope that McConnell sees the need to provide better answers to that question. We can hope and pray that McConnell will seek out the better angels of his being. We can hope that he will align himself with those who seek to preserve the soul of our country. We must be optimistic that McConnell will find a way to work with his former Senate colleague, Joe Biden, and together strive to heal the breach that exists in our society. We can hope McConnell is capable of doing this for his own sake and the sake of our country. We should hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.
Paul H. Anderson is a retired Minnesota Supreme Court justice who served on the Minnesota Supreme Court for nearly 19 years and as chief judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals for almost two years. Republican Gov. Arne Carlson appointed him to both judicial positions.
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