President Donald Trump advanced Monday night’s announcement of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, with more than a week of calculated suspense, a reminder of how much the president learned about stagecraft in his previous life in reality TV.
It was a guessing game that had included Metairie native Amy Coney Barrett, a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge in Chicago, as a possible nominee for the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.
But long before Trump entered the White House, the intrigue surrounding presidential picks for the highest court in the land had often come to resemble an episode of “Survivor” or “The Apprentice” — an exercise in contrived rivalries, cynical posturing and preening opportunism.
It’s made for colorful political theater in the halls of the U.S. Senate, where every Supreme Court nominee must be considered. But at this point, a country weary of division could benefit from less drama. Restraint, after all, is what the U.S. Senate is supposed to be about. The Founding Fathers envisioned it as the cooler head of the body politic, a forum where passion could yield to pragmatism and principle could prevail over partisanship.
That ideal has grown ever elusive since the Capitol Hill circus that precipitated Kennedy’s nomination for the Supreme Court in 1987. President Ronald Reagan tapped Kennedy for the job after his original nominee, Robert Bork, failed to pass Senate muster because of his conservative views, and his subsequent nominee, Douglas Ginsburg, withdrew his name from consideration after revelations of past marijuana use.
In imposing a political litmus test on Bork, rejecting him in spite of his credentials, his critics advanced a culture of partisanship that has poisoned the process for a generation. The most recent consequence of that calamitous precedent unfolded in 2016, when Senate Republicans refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, opting to cross their fingers and hope that an autumn presidential election would yield another nominee more aligned with their politics.
The eye-for-an-eye tactics of the current confirmation process aren’t in keeping with the highest ideals that the Senate — and the Supreme Court — are supposed to represent.
It’s time to reconnect with the Senate’s principal role as a body called to deliberation, not demagoguery. Trump’s nominee to replace Kennedy has an impressive resume. Unless some compelling reason for a rejection surfaces during the confirmation process, senators should vote to confirm Kavanaugh, regardless of their party.
That would be the best outcome of a debate that has, so far, looked more like a fundraising telethon for the midterms.
The Supreme Court deserves better. So, for that matter, does the rest of the country.