Back in 2014, Bruce Braley, Joni Ernst’s Democratic challenger for Iowa’s open Senate seat, warned fellow trial lawyers about the state’s senior senator, Chuck Grassley, at a fundraiser: If the Republicans win control of the Senate, “you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary.” Well before Ernst’s victory, which would help return the Senate to the GOP, Braley apologized to Grassley for the remark. So should anyone else who underestimated the first non-lawyer to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Grassley has shown himself equal to a succession of challenges leading up to Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearings. He took the gavel during one of the most trying periods any Judiciary chairman has ever faced. For years, a liberal school of legal thought permeating academia and the Democratic Party promoted the notion that life-tenured judges should treat the Constitution as a malleable vessel for the imposition of their policy preferences. The election of President Trump proved momentous to the rule of law as a new administration committed itself to the nomination of constitutionalists to the federal bench.
Democrats reacted by surpassing their prior obstructionism of nominees during Republican administrations in order to make it as difficult as possible for President Trump’s picks to be confirmed. They forced the Senate to take far more cloture votes on nominations—no matter how noncontroversial they were—than any prior Congress at the start of a presidency and made the Senate spend an unprecedented number of hours of post-cloture debate time.
Grassley would have none of this abuse, instead shepherding through nomination after nomination and refusing to permit Democrats to turn the blue slip, contrary to established practice, into a veto.
And Grassley’s Judiciary Committee accomplished all this while facing the challenge of filling two Supreme Court vacancies. A year and a half after the hearings for Neil Gorsuch, the opposition set the bar for antics even lower during Kavanaugh’s hearings last week.