Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 6, 2018
The drama finally ended in the afternoon with Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, quaveringly announcing that she would vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
The superfluous acknowledgment from Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the only Democrat to do so, that he would follow suit shelved any uncertainty for the final tally today but meant little.
So, the overly drawn-out, awful, soul-killing debate about a once-in-a-generation alteration of Court direction, about anointing a man with unprovable allegations of sexual assault, with sheaves of unresolved false or misleading public statements under oath, about a partisan axe to grind finally screeched to a halt in a single, heartbreaking moment.
The joyous gathering of the Republican Senate clan can erupt, as half the nation looks on stunned.
There is no attempt to heal that is going to happen here; rather the speeches were aimed at turning the knife in the other side.
There is only a long list of court cases that one-by-one will serve as an attack on expanding civil rights, will undermine abortion and health care, will embolden and enhance presidential powers and weaken the federal government’s rule-making with the states. Expect worker rights to shrink and corporate freedoms to avoid regulation to grow. There will be a bounty of 5–4 decisions that will just keep coming.
It all came on a day when the Nobel Peace Prize went to two people who are fighting the spread of sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war, and a day after which former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens felt compelled to speak against Kavanaugh for showing a side of himself that falls far short of judicial mien. It came as major news outlets editorialized against the choice for a fistful of reasons. It came as President Trump continued to mock a credible, sober adult woman willing to suffer public humiliation for reporting what happened to her.
Regardless of party affiliation, political historians will be feasting on this one for years to come. The speechifying by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell alone turned the arguments over the last few weeks inside out. In his version, Republicans are humanist and caring; Democrats not only resistors, but shameful; there was no mention in his remarks of ignoring Merrick Garland as a nominee over nine months. The remarks by Democrats pointing out the clear inadequacies of a reined-in FBI search for truth, the now-weak-looking attempts to find lies in Kavanaugh testimony, the burden of being a minority force, were equally sharp in tone and substance.
It is a set of decisions for party over conscience, one that, whether intended or not, will set back women’s rights, will make it more problematic for women to report sexual assaults, and that will encourage bad behavior. Senator Collins was the only one to offer a bit of empathy before she fell into party line.
Here’s my take: If the Republican-dominated Senate can botch the handling of truth-finding in as wide-open a field as that which Kavanaugh projected, how will this same body handle the Robert Mueller report when it finally arrives? How could it possibly handle politically sensitive material that could point to impeachable offenses if not criminal charges for the Trump family and campaign? Can you imagine circumstances in which this Senate can come up with 75 votes on Trump’s suitability for office? For that matter, why will we believe that the same FBI won’t tank the special counsel findings because it finds itself too much under the control of a personally affected White House?
As I have noted previously, until this last year, it required 60 senators to agree on Supreme Court candidates. Now we have one who just squeeks by with 50. With bipartisanship thrown to the wolves, it is of little wonder that partisanship turned ever sharper.
After today’s vote ends, Kavanaugh will go to work at the Supreme Court where fellow justices will have to wonder whether he will recuse himself from any case potentially touched by his wild rants against a conspiracy by the Left to keep him from his anticipated elevation to the bench. An op-ed by Prof. Laurence Tribe, the noted Harvard constitutional scholar, this week argued that judicial ethics would demand recusal on a host of cases coming before the court.
The other justices will have to re-educate him as to what passes as acceptable judicial behavior.
We all have some decision-making to do. We need to decide if we care about our government institutions at all, about what passes as acceptable and ethical behavior. We have to address whether truth-finding actually matters at all, or whether it is all about power. We need to decide whether we want to persuade anyone any longer. We need, fundamentally, to re-learn how to care when a woman or a man steps forward and says she is hurting.
Half the nation is outraged today.
Please deal with it.