Supreme Court: A Melee of Partisan Politics

Seal of the Supreme Court of the United States

Seal of the Supreme Court of the United States

Ian Wallace, Columnist

The Supreme Court vacancy left by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February, 2016 has lead to a two-and-a-half year long melee of partisan politics for control of the Supreme Court, an institution meant to be separate from congressional politics.  Following the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, we look back on a debate that defined our growing partisan divide, which increasingly threatens the legitimacy of our government.

Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia, moderate liberal Merrick Garland

In March 2016, a month after the passing of Justice Scalia, President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a moderate liberal, in an attempt to sway the Republican Senate majority for approval.  In theory, the Republican Senators would reluctantly approve, seeing slim chances in the 2016 election and the possibility of then candidate Hillary Clinton nominating a further left-leaning Justice with a Democratic majority Senate (they were very wrong indeed).  Instead, the Republican Senate majority gambled on the 2016 election and refused to consider Garland and any other nomination by President Obama.

President Trump’s nominee for Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh

In 2017, President Trump and the Republican Senate majority replaced Scalia with conservative Neil Gorsuch, and in 2018 Trump had the opportunity to fill another seat.  Swing conservative Anthony Kennedy retired this July, and Trump promptly nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative, to take his place. With many Senate Republicans unsure of whether to approve Kavanaugh’s nomination or not, Senate Democrats were in strong opposition, hoping to convince swing Republicans to reject the nomination.  With midterm elections on November 6th, Senate Democrats hoped they could delay Trump’s Supreme Court nomination on the chance they gained a Senate majority. After three women accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from Kavanaugh and one of the accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, the Senate voted 50-48 (two did not vote) in favor of Kavanaugh.  For the Democrats, regaining control of the Supreme court will have to wait.

Two Years.  Senate Republicans shun a liberal nominee on party lines, Senate Democrats do the same to a conservative nominee.  A Supreme Court designed to avoid partisanship now has historical precedents hanging on partisan control. The Supreme Court is becoming increasingly tied to the Legislative and Executive branches of the United States, threatening the legitimacy of checks and balances in addition to America’s democracy.