The severe divisiveness that has marked American politics ever since the Supreme Court settled the presidential contest in 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore has spilled over to a body whose historical respect and authority have been grounded on the court’s supposed separation from politics.
When Kavanaugh’s nomination could not be stopped based on his record in public service, including as a federal appeals court judge since 2006, the Democrats tried an 11th-hour strategem of accusing him of sexual misconduct in his teens and early 20s, hoping that it could sway just a couple of Republican votes in the Senate. The fact that Democrats had to go back more than three decades to find anything approaching credible accusations would suggest that this was more than anything an act of political desperation.
For his part, it’s regrettable that Kavanaugh rose to the Democrats’ bait and lashed out with rage at the senators on the Judiciary Committee during the explosive hearing, at which both Kavanaugh and his main accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testified. Although the judge had a right to be personally incensed at what he saw as an unprincipled effort to destroy him and harm his family, Kavanaugh’s performance — while cheered by many conservative supporters — could damage his ability to be seen as an impartial arbiter of the cases that will come before him.
Further contributing to the divisiveness of the Kavanaugh nomination was a rules change pushed through in 2017 by Republicans that effectively said it would only take 51 votes, rather than 60, to get a Supreme Court justice through the confirmation process. When the higher threshold was in place, it could often be frustrating to the party in power, but it did help ensure that a nominee would have to be able to command support from both sides of the political aisle — a requirement that tamped down emotions.
The nasty confirmation hearings, the protests at the Capitol, the confrontations in the halls of the Senate, the widening gulf between Americans are all an outgrowth of letting this process of advise and consent spin out of control. Both parties are to blame for that.