Ltte: What the “Biden Rule” means for Supreme Court nominations

To the editor,

The point of my response today is to clarify some mischaracterizations of what is known as the “Biden Rule,” as well as to offer some opinions on the recent Supreme Court developments. The so-called “Biden Rule” refers to a 1992 speech then-Senator Joe Biden made in reaction to a series of increasingly partisan Supreme Court nomination hearings during the Reagan and Bush presidencies. First, it should be made clear that Biden’s comments were made in a hypothetical context—at the time there was no vacancy or nominee to consider. In the speech, Senator Biden suggested that due to the unprecedentedly partisan nature of the recent nomination processes—in which of the past seven nominations, two were not confirmed and two others were passed by extremely narrow margins—that then-President George H.W. Bush defer the nomination process to after the election should a vacancy occur. He felt president Bush should do this because upcoming party presidential conventions would inevitably contribute more fuel to the partisan fire, and another confirmation hearing during this presidential term would likely worsen newfound public distrust of the Supreme Court nomination process.

Thus, the true fallacy in Rutecki’s column is justifying the Republicans’ delay of Gorsuch under the “Biden Rule.” The goal of Biden’s “rule” was to reduce the increasingly present partisanship in the confirmation process, but Obama’s nomination already did this. Ruling conservatively on campaign finance and gun regulation cases, and regarded as “pro-police,” President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, was considered quite moderate. The nomination, whether it was out of pragmatism or not, clearly rose above the “partisan bickering” that Senator Biden referenced in the 1990s when explaining his reasoning for what would become known as the “Biden Rule.” Yet Senate Republicans did not even offer Garland a hearing.

In terms of liberal Senators’ actions this past week, it should be noted that the Senator Biden of the ‘90s likely wouldn’t have supported Schumer and the Democrats’ strategy. As a liberal, I’m not sure I do. I would have rather forced the nuclear option if Trump were to nominate a less qualified judge or a judge with a questionable past. As egregious as I think Gorsuch will be on issues like campaign finance, Supreme Court confirmations aren’t supposed to be political in nature. And as much as I’d like to argue Republicans made things political by not even holding a hearing for Garland, Senate Democrats have been using the “nuclear option” to push through Obama’s federal judge selections since 2013. Hypocrisy exists everywhere; it’s Washington.

The finger pointing of the Garland-Gorsuch debacle can go on forever, but the broader implication of the result is rather boring—the court’s balance remains the same as it did before Scalia’s passing. Only time will tell if the Court’s makeup will change again and if Gorsuch proves to be a competent justice.
Jake Bumgarner