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Friday, May 7, 2021

Chuck Grassley is emerging as a real player in the Supreme Court vacancy game

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Back in 2004, Chuck Grassley, the then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sat at a desk in the Ronald Reagan Federal Building in Washington, D.C., with Michael Mukasey, the nominee for attorney general. Mukasey, now the United States attorney general, told Grassley he thought the Constitution had “earned some room for more of the players on the board”—namely, the Supreme Court. He did not mention abortion or Roe v. Wade by name, but he pointed out that there was room for a justice who voted the other way.

Now he’s got an opportunity to flex his own muscle in a court-selection process that did not involve Mukasey.

Judicial vacancies are a huge opportunity for senators to insert themselves into the arcane and powerful world of federal judicial nominations. The advice and consent role Grassley is playing is not just a privilege, but a powerful one.

Sometimes the advice and consent role requires precious few words. In September 2003, a somewhat famous White House lawyer named Karl Rove let Grassley in on a little strategy. “You want to bring the conversation about the president’s record up to the judiciary,” Rove said. “He’s got a lot of second-term accomplishments. You can highlight that.”

That strategy worked. By the end of October, Grassley was traveling the country handing out Democratic-friendly talking points. “Judge Bork is a hard-core conservative,” Grassley said at the American Bar Association’s annual convention in San Francisco. The crowd had been turned on for months by Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987.

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