Indignity Vol. 2, No. 25: All over but the shouting.
PAGEANT OF DEMOCRACY DEP'T.
The Jackson Hearings Sent a Message
“DO YOU THINK the Supreme Court is legitimate?" Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse asked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Wednesday, in the third day of the hearings on her nomination to the Supreme Court.
It was an intentionally idiotic question, with an obvious mandatory answer: "I do, Senator," Jackson said.
The actual answer to that question is that seemingly no one expects Ben Sasse to cast a vote for Jackson to join the Supreme Court, regardless of her qualifications. He failed to vote either way on Jackson's elevation to the D.C. Circuit Court in 2021, while only three Republican senators voted in her favor—and one of those three, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, spent his time in this week's hearing raging against Democrats, suggesting Brown was out to protect child pornographers, and repeatedly interrupting the nominee when she tried to speak.
Sasse, who made himself famous by encouraging the press and the public to consider him a thoughtful statesman, didn't indulge in the snarling aggression of his fellow Republican committee members. After one particularly bombastic and vicious bit of grandstanding by Ted Cruz, Sasse went so far as to make an unsubtle remark about the "jackassery" that resulted from public officials playing to TV cameras.
But he was just working in a smarmier, more elevated register. Where his colleagues were trying to make the hearing revolve around phantasmic complaints about Jackson's impeccably solid background, Sasse was out to turn real complaints into phantasms. He had asked about the Supreme Court's legitimacy, he told Jackson, because the court had been "derided and called illegitimate by members of the Senate." They had said, Sasse complained, that the court "leans into extreme partisanship" or "threatens basic liberties" or "has been hijacked by Republicans."
That the Supreme Court has been hijacked by Republicans, for the sake of extreme partisanship, is a straightforward description of the last six years of judicial politics, from the moment Antonin Scalia dropped dead in February 2016 and the Senate's then–majority leader, Mitch McConnell, refused to hold hearings on President Obama's appointment to fill the seat. McConnell delivered to the Trump administration a court divided 4–4 between Democratic and Republican appointees, which ended up, after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the hasty mid-election confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett in 2020, as a 6–3 Republican majority, with its final three members chosen at the express direction of the Federalist Society.
The planned retirement of Stephen Breyer, opening the seat for Jackson, simply means that Republicans have no near-term path to push their margin to 7–2. This made the theatrics and the self-conscious absurdity of the Jackson hearings unsettling, even by the standards of Supreme Court confirmation hearings. With no serious changes to the balance of power at stake, the senators from the minority party were freed from the burden of even pretending to be persuasive or persuadable. They felt no obligation to act as if they were participants in a two-party deliberative system, or even as human beings addressing a fellow human being.
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