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Delivering on My Promise to South Dakotans

By Sen. John Thune

November 2, 2020

I was recently proud to vote to confirm one of the most qualified judges in living memory to the Supreme Court. Confirming judicial nominees always feels particularly personal to me, because one of the reasons I was sent to the Senate was to confirm judges like Amy Coney Barrett to the bench.

For the better part of two centuries, confirming judges was a pretty bipartisan affair. Presidents of both parties generally got the majority of their judicial nominees confirmed to the bench.   

But all of that changed in the early 2000s. After President George W. Bush was elected, Democrats decided that they were no longer going to follow the tradition of bipartisan confirmation and would instead prevent judicial nominees they opposed from even getting a vote. Why? Because they were afraid that Republican nominees wouldn’t deliver the political and policy results Democrats wanted.

And here we come to the fundamental difference between Republicans’ and Democrats’ judicial philosophies. Republicans want judges who are committed to applying the law as it is written. We want judges who will look at how the law (and the Constitution) applies to a particular case and then make a decision based on those criteria. Not on their personal beliefs. Not on what they think the law should be. Just on what the law (and the Constitution) actually says. Put another way, Republicans believe that the job of a judge is to call balls and strikes – not rewrite the rules of the game.   

But Democrats’ philosophy is different. Democrats’ primary concern is not that judges follow the plain meaning of the law, but that judges deliver what Democrats consider to be the right outcomes. If a judge can reach the conclusion Democrats want by following the plain meaning of a statute, then fine.  But if he can’t, then Democrats want judges who will reach beyond the statute to deliver what Democrats consider to be the right verdict. For proof of this, we only have to look at the debate over Justice Barrett’s nomination. Democrats didn’t complain about Justice Barrett’s qualifications – they complained that she wouldn’t deliver the outcomes Democrats wanted. 

But back to the early 2000s. After Democrats decided that judges nominated by President Bush might not deliver the results Democrats wanted, Democrats met to discuss what they could do about the president’s judicial nominees. And out of that meeting and other discussions arose a new strategy: Democrats decided that they would break with tradition and start regularly blocking Republican judicial nominations.

As the list of filibustered nominees grew longer, a lot of Americans got upset. I was one of them. And one of the big reasons I ran for the Senate in 2004 was to help get highly qualified nominees like the ones Democrats were filibustering on the bench. I promised South Dakotans that I would fight to ensure that outstanding, impartial judges got confirmed, and I am proud to have delivered on that promise.

The past four years have been particularly productive. During the first four years of the current administration, we have confirmed more than 200 judges to the bench, including three Supreme Court justices. The work we have done will help protect the rule of law in this country for decades to come. I’m particularly honored to have had the chance to confirm the outstanding Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. She has shattered a glass ceiling for conservative, pro-life women, and, like her predecessor, I believe she will inspire generations of women during her time on the court.   

I’m proud of the scores of judges we’ve confirmed who understand the difference between the job of the legislative branch and the job of the judiciary – and who won’t try to usurp the role of Congress by legislating from the federal bench. And I will continue to deliver on my promise to South Dakotans by fighting for the confirmation of more outstanding, impartial judges like Justice Barrett.