It’s easy to become immune to the rantings and ramblings of one political party complaining about the words and actions of another. Liberals, myself included, opined last week during the senate confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the ludicrous questions that were asked by senators on the right side of the aisle, and insinuations snidely made by the likes of Marsha Blackburn, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and others. The selection of a Supreme Court justice should not hinge on petty partisan politics nor on personal grudges, racism, or other forms of bigotry. So, when a man of intellect and a member of the Republican Party critiques the behaviour of those in his party, perhaps it’s time for the party members to sit up and take note.
Michael Gerson is a well-respected journalist and a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush … he is also a staunch conservative. I don’t often agree with Gerson’s views, but I respect him for putting thought into his opinions rather than simply spouting from emotion in his column for The Washington Post. One of his OpEd pieces last week caught my eye and I thought I would share it with you today, for his thoughts mirror my own — that the Republican Party is in need of a major overhaul …
The Jackson confirmation hearings show a Republican Party in decay
By Michael Gerson
March 24, 2022 at 1:51 p.m. EDT
If the Senate’s current exercise of Supreme Court advice and consent needed a title, it might be “The puzzlement of Judge Jackson.”
When Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has fielded a question about the influence of critical race theory on children or has been asked, for the record, to define a woman, she has often reacted with a puzzled pause before offering a measured response. What must she be thinking? Should she advocate for sleeping infants rather than woke ones (a populist cause if ever there was one)? How current are Republican senators on their sex ed? Should she start with the birds and the bees?
Jackson’s performance during her confirmation hearing this week has been impressive for its restraint and general grace. But the deliberations of the Senate Judiciary Committee might be remembered for her understandable confusion about topics that make complete sense only among movement conservatives. On the evidence of Jackson’s most tenacious questioners, this is now what it takes to win prominence in the modern GOP: a quiver full of culture-war attacks and a stout willingness to look foolish in public.
It is sad and sobering to have seen the decline of the Supreme Court nomination process firsthand. I worked in the Senate in the 1980s and 1990s. When I wrote the floor statement of my conservative Republican boss, Sen. Dan Coats, supporting Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s nomination, we were applying an older tradition of confirmation that looked mainly at disqualifications. Did the nominee lack integrity, impartiality or a judicial temperament? Had he or she violated any ethical or professional standards? The power of appointing Supreme Court justices was generally thought to reside in the executive branch. The president was given wide latitude. The Senate acted as a filter of unfitness.
In the post-Robert Bork era — after a lot of mutual recrimination and a period of adjustment and (sometimes) inconsistency — this undoubtedly changed. The focus of conservatives turned to judicial philosophy, particularly the constraints of originalism and textualism. This was the ascent of ideology, in which Republicans grew very comfortable criticizing judicial overreach. Everyone knew the real game was Roe v. Wade. But the standard of public judgment was provided by the Federalist Society. (Rather slyly, Jackson defused this debate during her hearing. “I am focusing on original public meaning because I’m constrained to interpret the text,” she said. This “adherence to the text is a constraint on my authority.”)
What we have seen among Republican senators this time around — with a few notable exceptions — is a departure from what preceded it. And it says far more about the state of the GOP than it does about the views of the nominee.
Jackson’s main Republican questioners are not focused on qualifications, temperament or even judicial theory. Their clear objective has been to trip up the nominee by asking about the latest Republican culture-war debates. It is surprising to me how little Republicans have emphasized judicial theory. For now, the culture war is all.
This is not just change; it is decay. Republicans have gone from arguing about the intent of the Founders to reproducing the night’s lineup of questions from Tucker Carlson.
This has, no doubt, been favorable to the judge’s confirmation. In the comparison of intellectual seriousness, Jackson is the clear winner. She is a responsible judge of moderate temperament, as well as an admirable human being, who will often do liberal things on the high court. What else could Republicans expect in this circumstance?
The GOP performance is particularly disturbing because it is not the direct result of incitement by Donald Trump. The former president does not lack for provocation. As a district court judge, Jackson joined in decisions that limited executive privilege. “Stated simply,” she wrote in November of 2019, “the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings. … This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.”
No one has issued a more direct assault on the philosophic basis of Trumpism — that one former president should effectively be king. But Trump has said next to nothing about the Jackson nomination. Instead, he talks endlessly about the illegitimacy of the 2020 election. So the approach among the senators is moving on its own power and momentum within the Republican Party.
The MAGA world now has animating manias beyond Trump’s immediate priorities. The circus in the Senate is how ambitious elected Republicans understand the avenue to influence — with or without Trump’s direction. And they are probably reading the base of the GOP correctly. The problem, as usual, is deeper and greater than Trump. The shallowness and cynicism of the nomination process may well be previewing our political future.