“McConnell’s ‘no hearings, no votes’ stance in 2016 is an actual precedent. But it is a precedent limited on its facts to vacancies occurring because of a sudden death of a justice in a presidential election year.” - Hugh Hewitt, 6/29/18
NBC News contributor Hugh Hewitt, who was the driving force behind messaging that sought to promote Senate Republicans’ unprecedented obstruction of President Barack Obama’s 2016 nominee to the Supreme Court, is now hypocritically calling for the Senate to confirm a Trump nominee to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In the days following the February 13, 2016, death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Hewitt crafted the argument that would become widely adopted among both conservative media and Republican Senators. The Washington Post, where Hewitt is a contributing opinion columnist, reported that his #NoHearingsNoVotes hashtag was “beginning to shape the debate over how Republicans should position themselves in the upcoming fight over filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court” and that his slogan had “become a rallying cry not only for conservative Twitter users, but for organizations like Heritage Action for America, which is pressuring Republicans to stop a nomination process from moving forward under President Obama.”
Obama nominated federal Judge Merick Garland to the Supreme Court in March 2016, but Hewitt got his wish; after a historically unprecedented obstruction that lasted 293 days, Garland's nomination expired at the close of the 114th Congress on January 3, 2017, without ever receiving a hearing. The vacancy would go on to be filled by President Donald Trump.
During the February 15, 2016, broadcast of his radio show, Hewitt told listeners that he had planned to broadcast a rerun because of the President’s Day holiday, but changed his mind following Scalia’s death. Hewitt then argued, as a matter of institutional principle, that the 2016 presidential election should be a referendum on filling the vacancy, with the winner getting to fill the seat.
Referencing momentum behind his #NoHearingsNoVotes hashtag later during the show, Hewitt returned to the argument, saying, “Everything hangs on this next appointment and those that follow, our family rights, our religious liberty rights, our rights for the unborn, our rights to hold weapons, all of this stuff. Could Justice Scalia have given this a better legacy than an election devoted to the Constitution?”
There were no citations to the so-called Biden rule, the so-called Thurmond rule, or the so-called Schumer rule or other arguments that have been used by Republicans to justify their historic obstruction of Garland’s nomination and unprecedented obstruction of Obama judicial nominees generally. Hewitt just simply said that because there was soon to be an election, the winner of that election should get to fill the vacancy. If Hewitt had any principles, he might see how this argument would theoretically apply to the current vacancy, but instead he has urged Republicans to quickly fill the seat. (And note that Hewitt called for any Obama nominee to be blocked when the election was nine months away, compared to his call for a confirmation when the election is 43 days away.)
Hewitt’s hypocrisy doesn’t end there. In 2018, in a Washington Post opinion column where he urged Republicans to change Senate rules in order to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch, he wrote, “McConnell’s ‘no hearings, no votes’ stance in 2016 is an actual precedent.” He then added, “But it is a precedent limited on its facts to vacancies occurring because of a sudden death of a justice in a presidential election year.” In other words, the exact scenario occurring today.
In a September 2018 Washington Post column, Hewitt lavished praise over McConnell’s blocking of Garland, arguing that the Senate Majority Leader “has saved the Constitution as we know it.” According to Hewitt, McConnell had ensured “the Supreme Court and lower courts will remain committed to constitutional textualism and to the personal liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.” Hewitt essentially argued that Republican ideological preferences provide the ultimate justification for McConnell’s obstruction.
It is clear there is no principle behind Hewitt’s judicial nomination commentary; to him, it all boils down to Republicans should win and Democrats should lose.