No, not the 1990s (Bill Clinton's era). I'm talking about the 1890s, when William McKinley served as the 19th century's last president. That's where the Senate Republican leadership wants to take the Supreme Court. In one of the most politically bizarre moves of the year, Arizona senator and Republican Whip Jon Kyl announced that his party will use the next Supreme Court nominee's position on the right of corporations to spend unlimited funds on supporting or opposing political candidates as a litmus test for that nomination.
Technically, Kyl claimed that he was merely warning President Obama against making the Supreme Court's 5 to 4 Citizens United v. FEC ruling in favor of corporate influence-buying a litmus test for choosing a nominee. But the press (and everyone else) understands by now that when the extreme right talks of an Obama litmus test, they are actually projecting their own plans. As a headline writer for The Hill put it: "Money Case Is New Test for Nominee."
Let's remember that even Justice Stephen Breyer, who was the most pro-business Democratic nominee to the Court nominee in 40 years, opposed the Citizens United decision. For that matter, former conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist resolutely opposed efforts to give corporations political rights to his dying day. There is no plausible Obama nominee who would be likely to favor the decision. Therefore, no litmus test will be necessary -- for President Obama.
But the Republicans obviously want to recreate the William McKinley-era Supreme Court, which presided over the most corporate-tilting era in American history, and which resolutely defended the right of corporations to be free from regulation.
What's politically weird about this signal from Senator Kyl is that if there is one issue on which the average Sierra Club member and the average Tea Party supporter are likely to agree, it's the importance of keeping big corporations from buying our politics. Making Citizens United the basis for a Supreme Court battle is probably the most self-defeating political move that the Republicans could make. It exposes the sham of their alleged "conservative populism" and runs the risk of encouraging Tea Party candidates to run against Republicans in this fall's election.
And the other takeaway from Kyle's announcement? The Republican leadership has already decided, sight unseen, to filibuster anyone President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court.