For the last few days, America has been transfixed by the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. The entirely believable testimony of Dr. Blasey Ford was contrasted with Kavanaugh’s aggressive, blustering, and enraged response at her accusations’ damage to his shot at a lifetime Supreme Court judgeship.
The Court is the highest and most visible part of the justice system which is theoretically independent of the legislature and the executive branches of US government. Whatever happens with Kavanaugh’s appointment, the Court’s independence and the Senate’s legitimacy are now facing intense public scrutiny. That is why, after voting in favor of Kavanaugh on committee but then being confronted in an elevator by two angry victims of sexual assault, Senator Jeff Flake brokered a week-long delay on the final Senate vote in order to allow the FBI to conduct an investigation.
The Washington Post reported: “After this [hearing], public perception is going to increasingly be that it’s more a political body than a judicial one,” said Benjamin Barton, a law professor at the University of Tennessee who studies the federal judiciary. “To me, this will be a disaster for them.” Added Jonathan Peters, a media law professor at the University of Georgia. “The court is a political institution, yes, but as much as possible it’s critical for the justices to be — and be regarded as — impartial, trustworthy and above the political fray. The justices have reason now to be concerned.”
Republican support for Kavanaugh is only the latest in extreme partisan interference in the normal workings of the justice system, with Senate leader McConnell delaying and frustrating Obama-era appointments until Trump’s election enabled them to fill hundreds of lower-court vacancies with conservative judges. The transformation of the judiciary into a weapon of mass incarceration is a project more important to the Republican leadership, it seems, than their success in the House and Senate mid-term elections.
The New York Times commented: “Party leaders have concluded that supporting Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, in the face of sexual assault accusations against him, will all but ensure that Republicans lose control of the House in November even as their fortunes may improve in some tough Senate races. … Even as Mr. Trump and Senate leaders acceded to an F.B.I. investigation into the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh, Republicans say they did so grudgingly. Privately, they are determined to press ahead with the confirmation process despite the political risks and the possibility that Republican senators may still defect and oppose the nomination in the end.”
The Republican Senate committee members attempted to blame the Democrats for disrupting their staged confirmation by raising Dr. Ford’s objections. Kavanaugh himself raged: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups,” which apparently impressed Trump enough to tweet his support.
But the Democratic representatives are voicing a muted version of public hostility to the corruption of the political system that has been festering for many years before Trump took office. Kavanaugh is closely connected to this corruption: in earlier hearings, he lied skilfully about his involvement with formulating the legal justification for torture under the Bush administration, about his extreme partisanship during the Starr attempt to impeach Clinton, and the 2000 Supreme Court verdict that gave Bush the presidency.
The Democrats on their own could not prevent Trump and the Republicans from shifting the Supreme Court sharply to the right, endangering the Roe v. Wade decision and civil rights generally. But the glare of the spotlight on the raw machinations of power may well force a retreat on Kavanaugh’s elevation – who, despite the revelations about his character, will remain in an influential position on the Washington D.C. Appeals Court.
In any case, the Republican party has now clearly branded itself the party of white male entitlement, attracting those railing against the modern world that they believe “is hostile to their individual rights, political power and social status.” But in doing so, they are alienating themselves from the mass of people who don’t regularly vote, and may well be inspired to do so in November after the hearing’s demonstration of exclusive class privilege and of hostility to women.