What keeps our society civil? Food, employment, opportunity and safety? Perhaps also a faith in our system that it works as it should, minimizes corruption and treats citizens fairly?
A critical mass of us have agreed to abide by the same rules to bring order to chaos and anarchy. Of course, it is very easy to poke holes in this utopian view. Generally, however, we have faith in our ingenious three-branched system of government that is capable of addressing these failures and, just in case one of those systems fails, we have checks and balances to ensure longevity and security.
Right now our country is dealing with an unstable presidency. Our grave concerns are tempered in the form of midterm elections this year, a presidential election in 2020 and, worst-case scenario, term limits. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, is not subject to these elections, and lifetime appointments create generational impacts.
The Supreme Court has been the final arbiter of our political system. It delicately provides for incremental change and constitutional interpretation to guide our lawmakers. It reticently wades into social issues and cultural shifts because, ultimately, it has no military and it has no funds to enforce its decisions. The only reason it carries weight and influence is because we all choose to adhere to its decisions due to the respect we have for its legitimacy and ultimately its relative fairness and even-handedness.
For most of its history, there has been a sacred respect for Supreme Court appointments: reasonable presidential nominees, the Senate’s former rule that required two-thirds of the body to approve an appointment and bipartisan support for most of its nominees. We have seen that sanctity crumble as a political party unabashedly scrambles for power and influence.
The unprecedented Merrick Garland political scam, which held the seat open for a year to avoid another Obama appointment, the promised Federalist Society list of future court nominees by President Trump, the loss of the two-thirds rule and now the appointment of the hyperpartisan Brett Kavanaugh are the result.
Putting aside the very serious accusations against the nominee, his active partisan work in the Bush White House was the first red flag over his neutrality and qualifications. His untamable partisanship was confirmed through his bizarre tirade against Democrats during his confirmation hearing and, even more startling, his willingness to utilize right-wing conspiracies through scrunched-faced moments of anger in what should be a test of his judicial temperament.
His appointment to the Supreme Court could have unfathomable repercussions towards the view of its neutral legitimacy. If that respect is lost, we lose the delicate nature of checks and balances in our government. Without this neutral arm of the government pulling its weight, we are bound to see the increase of power and unchecked influence of the political party in charge, a Congress that could shrug off a Supreme Court decision or create laws unbeholden to their constitutionality, or a president who could selectively enforce his or her will on the country. Are we willing to lose this? And for what? For one man’s ego? For one party?
I’m not sure we know yet the true cost of all this, but we continue to take steps toward a very frightening future that I’m not sure we can walk back from. Kavanaugh’s nomination needs to be pulled now and a new nominee who honors the old tradition needs to be presented.
But that would require those in charge to care or even understand where we are headed. Unfortunately, I’m not sure we have either.
Weston Clark, Salt Lake City, is a former social studies teacher, current policy adviser and community activist who serves on various boards and commissions, but most proudly serves as dad to his two kids and spouse to his husband, Brandon.