At Least One Democratic Senator Is Saying Outright That the Emperor Has No Clothes

Charles P. Pierce
Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla - Getty Images

From Esquire

Unlike several of his colleagues, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, has managed to find a way to keep busy without the expense and bother of running for president. Besides a gig on Bill Maher's show last Friday, Whitehouse has been pushing hard on gun reform and on the climate crisis, which is important to him because, like the human body, Rhode Island is 60 percent water. He recently took a trip to Wyoming to study the effects of the climate crisis there and to consult with Native leaders about how the crisis is affecting them and their people. From Wyoming Public Radio:

Senator Whitehouse represents the state of Rhode Island, which he says is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. "If we're going to solve this problem it's going to take the whole Senate to do it, so I'm trying to go to other colleagues' states to get a better understanding of what the climate change problem looks like at home for them," Whitehouse said.

He also has taken the lead on an issue dear to the hearts of everyone who has to fly to make a living: being treated like cattle by the airlines. From the Providence Journal:

Three Democrats — Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and Reps. Jim Langevin, and David Cicilline — are planning a Monday press conference at T.F. Green Airport. They say they picked the height of the busy summer travel season to highlight the problem. Whitehouse said he pushed for a provision signed into law last fall that directed the FAA to propose a minimum seat width and minimum distance between rows of seats. The FAA must meet the law’s requirement by October. The lawmakers said less room between seats can also make it more difficult for passengers to quickly exit an airplane.

The end of the Armrest Wars and the Reclining Bloodshed may be at hand.

But the most hell that Whitehouse has raised recently has to do with an amicus brief he filed—with four other Democratic senators—with the Supreme Court regarding the Court's acceptance of a gun case from New York that many people see as potentially gutting what few gun control laws we have. It's not every day that you see senators accuse a majority of the Nine Wise Souls of being in the deep pockets of a powerful lobby, and also state fairly clearly that a case the Court has accepted already is a bag job. From the Washington Post:

“The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it,” writes Whitehouse, who is listed as the attorney of record on the friend-of-the-court brief. “Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.’ ” The phrase is from a poll question with which a majority of Americans agreed.

Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) joined the incendiary brief, which questions whether the court’s conservative majority — nominated by three Republican presidents — is motivated by partisan intent and is in the pocket of the National Rifle Association and the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.

Photo credit: Win McNamee - Getty Images

“Out in the real world, Americans are murdered each day with firearms in classrooms or movie theaters or churches or city streets, and a generation of preschoolers is being trained in active-shooter survival drills,” Whitehouse writes. “In the cloistered confines of this Court, and notwithstanding the public imperatives of these massacres, the NRA and its allies brashly presume, in word and deed, that they have a friendly audience for their ‘project.’ ”

The brief goes even further, calling out the administration* for subcontracting the judicial nominating process to the Federalist Society and calling out all the dark money that was behind the advertising campaign that was mounted on Justice Brett Kavanaugh's behalf when his nomination was imperiled by Christine Blasey Ford. Whitehouse's language in the brief is...unsparing.

This commentary is of particular note because it was published by an organization that has such a prominent role in the Republican Party’s efforts to shape the federal judiciary in favor of donor interests. The Federalist Society’s Executive Vice President, Leonard Leo, has been linked to a million-dollar contribution to the NRA’s lobbying arm, and to a $250 million network largely funded by anonymous donors to promote right-wing causes and judicial nominees...

The Society counts over eighty-six percent of Trump administration nominees to the circuit courts of appeal and to this Court as active members. It is not yet clear who the powerful funders are behind Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society judicial selection effort, nor what took place as the Federalist Society was “insourced” into the Trump administration’s judicial selection process.5 But massive political spending and secrecy are rarely a salubrious combination.

This declaration of a thoroughly unclad emperor, of course, caused a general meltdown on the right. Senator Lindsey Graham immediately took to the fainting couch, meeped about "packing the court," which is precisely what this brief was arguing against, and warned that these sentiments were guaranteed to re-elect the president*. (I love living in a time in which the possible re-election of a president* is used as the political equivalent of a protection racket.) Even liberal Professor Lawrence Tribe cautioned on the electric Twitter machine against the brief, arguing not unreasonably that pissing off the people in the pocket by telling the world they were in the pocket is not likely to advance any of your causes that come before the Court.

Me? I say enough is enough. There is nothing in Whitehouse's brief than anyone who's watched the Court since Merrick Garland got stiffed by Mitch McConnell doesn't know to be absolutely the truth. Kavanaugh's nomination got sold like a corrupt highway bill. (And how exactly he got all those debts paid off remains a piquant bit of speculation for all concerned.) If all this brief does is put how it happened on the record, and if it puts people on notice that their previous benefactors are sitting right there on the bench with them, then that's all to the good.

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