OPINION: Partisanship Has Destroyed the Judicial Nomination Process
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Though 44 % of American voters self-identify as independents – not aligned with either party - the American government is dominated by the two political parties. There is a great divide between the American people and their government.
A wrenching example of this divide has been the recently concluded Senate hearings on Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The hearings were not conducted on behalf of the American people to determine the nominee's fitness for the Supreme Court. The hearings were a two-party battle in which the dominant party was determined to advance its ideological position on the court and score a political victory.
Both parties maintain a partisan process wholly lacking integrity. Partisanship is destroying our country, so we need to take a hard look at it. It is not simply an excess of emotion or a lack of civility.
I recently attended a lecture by presidential historian Jon Meacham whose latest book is The Soul of America. The Battle For Our Better Angels. In it he says, "I am writing now not because past American presidents have always risen to the occasion but because the incumbent American president so rarely does." Meacham reminds us that "we have endured moments of madness and injustice," and yes we are in so many ways in the midst of such a time now.
In his lecture, Meacham defined partisanship as the passion of warring factions unrestrained by reason. During the Q and A, I spoke about my view of partisanship as structural barriers such as closed primaries and gerrymandered districts that stifle American democracy and divide us between the Republican and Democratic Parties. Part of Meacham's responses to me, all of which were fulsome, was that the country was founded as a Republic, not a democracy.
Several people came up to me afterward and said that they appreciated my comments. This experience made me ponder about how important it is for the country to grow beyond the restraints of the Founders whose vision was limited and who, after all, accepted slavery. Also, that it is easy to underestimate just how detrimental partisanship is and how much it has become so ubiquitous in the processes of the U.S. government.
Though the Supreme Court as well as the presidency and Congress are supposed to belong to the American people, these branches of government are treated as the spoils of the winning party. There is now no impartial body that functions on behalf of the public good.
The process of the nomination and hearings which have now resulted in the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court were a raw battle, scorching partisanship over the soul of America.
Both parties place the aim of political advantage over all else. The Senate Judiciary Committee is a committee of senators of one party, the Republican Party, competing against the senators of the other party, the Democratic Party, to advance their political interests. The purpose of the committee was not to advance a justice who will protect the Constitution, the purpose was to gain political advantage for one side over the other.
It is the worst kind of partisanship when one party celebrates the failings of the other because it may help them win more seats. Some Democrats are saying that because the Republicans confirmed Judge Kavanaugh despite the charges of sexual assault and that he lied before the committee, that it will help them win seats in the midterm elections.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat and Vice Chair of the so-called Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in responde to the Kavanaugh confirmation: “This is going to mean that we win more Dem seats than we would have without this. This is absolutely going to help us in the House".
To me, the person who expressed the most integrity in the entire process was Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who stated that, "I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened...It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell the truth."
If our elections were nonpartisan and not run by the political parties elected officials could be freer to vote their conscience not what their party dictates. Senator Jeff Flake said that if he were running for a second term there is “not a chance” he would have called for an FBI investigation of the sexual assault charges against Judge Kavanaugh.
The U.S. partisan political system is one in which women are greatly underrepresented in elected office in Congress and across the country.
Senator Lisa Murkowski found a way to follow her conscience and broke with her party, saying:
“And I believe we’re dealing with issues right now that are bigger than the nominee and how we ensure fairness and how our legislative and judicial branch can continue to be respected. This is what I have been wrestling with, and so I made the — took the very difficult vote that I did.”
President Trump threateningly predicted that such independence would cost her re-election.
Donald Trump is a flagrant, divisive wielder of partisanship, but he is not its origin. He was elected in a partisan electoral system that gave voters the choice between two of the most unpopular candidates in modern presidential campaign history. Trump was the candidate who was the most disruptive of the status quo.
Partisanship is a two-party affair and is tied to and perpetuates racial division in America. Starting after the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Republican Party began to assume a politic of abandoning the African American people -- this politic continues. Today, the Democratic Party appeals to the Black community as the lesser of two evils and takes the community for granted. The Black community is rebelling. This tactic is more and more not working and did not work in the 2016 presidential election, which is one of the reasons why Hillary Clinton lost. I believe a multiracial independent political movement that reaches out to all people can bridge those divides.
The movement of American voters away from the two parties is not only a movement away from partisanship -- it is also a movement for justice. Ultimately, we cannot rely on the Supreme Court to uphold women's rights, voting rights, and civil rights or to strike down partisan gerrymandering. The Supreme Court has itself become partisan. This is not surprising given how the members of the court are nominated and confirmed. The equal right to vote for women and for people of color had to be fought for on the ground in this country as will the equal right to vote for independents.
The systemic partisanship of the U.S. political system must be entirely transformed to bring the government near to the heart and soul of the people. The leadership for this transformation is coming from independents.