It's the old "Pottery Barn rule" — associated with military strategy and Colin Powell. The rule is normally invoked before an action is taken, so it works to support an argument against taking action. If you pick up that ceramic plate in the store, you might break it, and the sign wants you to know/believe that you'll have to pay for it. Actually, I think the signs had the more humorous, alliterative wording: "You break it, you bought it."
The real meaning of those signs was: Don't break anything. Be careful. The signs don't create legal liability. It's not that — to use contract law — the sign is an offer and the breaking counts as acceptance. And stores normally eat the loss when a customer breaks something. But maybe the signs encourage people to be more careful handling the merchandise.
But Greenhouse is deploying the old saying after the thing she's deeming breakage has occurred. Too late now to be extra careful! But Republicans were warned in advance of their resistance to Obama's nominee (Merrick Garland) and their going-nuclear vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch. Greenhouse is writing now not to stop anything or to convince any Gorsuch supporters that Republicans have broken the Court. She's saying: We should hold Republicans responsible for what the Supreme Court has become. And, of course, she has the opinion that it's become something awful. And it can always, henceforth, be contrasted to The Court That Might Have Been — The Court That Should Have Been — the Court with a 5-person liberal majority with Merrick Garland in the seat formerly known as Scalia's.
Going forward, it will be next to impossible for people to look at decisions that may appear on the Republican Party’s agenda — on voting rights, as a prime example — without seeing the Supreme Court as a partisan tool....That's true, if by "people," you mean the coastal elite of the United States and partisan Democrats in the Blue Islands of Flyover America.
But I think it's easily possible for many Americans to see the Supreme Court as a legitimate, independent branch — and not in spite of but because of the election. The death of Antonin Scalia, less than a year before the presidential election, made what we want from the Court a big issue in the campaign. Denying the outgoing President his choice gave Americans our choice. What sort of person belongs on the Court? Candidate Trump committed to a list of names, and Hillary Clinton had endless opportunities to criticize his choices and offer her own, and the people voted. It seems to have been the decisive issue for many of us. The kind of Justices Trump promised to nominate — and Gorsuch was known and named — are what Americans think belongs on the Court.
Greenhouse thinks — or purports to think — that the process was too political. But would she say the same thing if Hillary had won — with her stress on the abortion rights and gay rights issues — and seized the nomination? I imagine that Greenhouse would read the election as a resounding endorsement of the liberal approach to constitutional interpretation and would cheer it on. Let's have more of it.
And I would not have a problem with that. In fact, the process is political: The President has the power to nominate and the Senate must confirm. That much politics is in the Constitution.
But here's the tricky part. Once the nominee is confirmed and goes on the Court, he (or she) becomes independent. There's life tenure, and the Justice has sworn to follow the judicial method and to stick to deciding cases according to the law. It's not supposed to be political.
So the other way that it's possible for people not to see the Supreme Court as a partisan tool is if they believe what the nominees always say in the confirmation process: Partisanship and political preference have no place in the work of a judge. It's what Gorsuch assured us. It's what everyone else on the Court assured us. And it's what Merrick Garland would have assured us.
Now, it's probably not what Linda Greenhouse believes, nor is it what her compatriots in the coastal elite believe. And I can tell you it's not what is generally believed on the higher altitudes of the Blue Island where I live. But I at least understand how many of my fellow Americans can believe it.
And how can nominee after nominee sit before the Senate and swear they will do something if no one can possibly think that it's true? It's possible.
And that's why the Supreme Court isn't even broken, let alone the sole possession of the Republican Party.