Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in and seated this week as a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
His prolonged, painful and partisan confirmation battle is over. Unfortunately, the impact of the acrimony surrounding the process will linger for many years, both on the court itself and public discourse.
We, as a country, have lost sight of the judicial branch’s intent to fairly and faithfully apply and interpret the law, a duty that transcends party politics. Both our federal elected officials and everyday Americans -- regardless of party affiliation -- must set aside partisan rhetoric to focus on whether judicial nominees are qualified for their appointments.
The federal judiciary is a coequal branch of government with the legislative and executive, but it should be free of the partisan influences of elected offices. Yet, all nine Supreme Court justices now have ideologies that largely line up with the party of the president who nominated them. And the confirmation votes for and public opinion of nominees increasingly transpire along party lines.
Sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh -- and his response to them -- obviously changed the timbre of his confirmation process. Even then, most people’s decision whether to believe his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, seemed to be determined by their party's initial support or opposition for his nomination.
That party affiliation can shade our opinions on whom to trust is indicative of the scope of this problem.
Presidents are more frequently nominating judges who are considered to harbor particularly conservative or liberal views. Senate hearings are full of histrionics and hyperbole from the minority party, whose ability to effectively protest has been all but eliminated by the so-called “nuclear option,” which both parties have used to ram through unpopular nominees requiring Senate confirmation.
This represents the unfortunate evolution from Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy’s all-out assault to derail Robert Bork’s nomination to Republicans’ baseless refusal to even grant Merrick Garland the courtesy of a hearing. Now, political parties wield judicial vacancies -- which are, again, neither elected nor partisan in nature -- as a ploy to win votes.
What people don’t want to admit is that their party played a role in this degradation. Nobody’s hands are clean; Democrats and Republicans share the blame. Perhaps that shot of reality is what’s required to jolt Americans to their collective senses -- and senses of decency.
In the span of three decades, Supreme Court justices went from mostly straightforward confirmation processes focused on their qualifications to the protracted partisan battles we’ve come to accept as normal. They’re not, as a quick glance at past nominations shows.
The sooner we remember how this once worked -- and the actual intent of the hearings -- the better chance Americans can reverse this rot that’s consuming their court system.