Americans are already casting votes in what portends to be the most contentious and pivotal election of a generation. Voting is the seminal point from which all legitimate governance flows, and political decisions that compromise public perception of a free and fair election could have lasting consequences.
In the heat of the moment, it is critical that we remember there is no political gain or partisan benefit that can justify damage to the integrity of our elections.
The process of filling the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now inextricably linked to the ongoing 2020 election. Sadly, our nation was not given time to celebrate her significant contributions or mourn her passing before politicians sought to profit from her death. But this callousness doesn’t simply reveal character, it also demonstrates what is at stake — the consolidation of control and influence over our election.
A justice chosen by the president and seated just weeks before Nov. 3 would likely be called upon to help determine election results and ultimately could cast a deciding vote on legal and civic matters in which the president has personal interest.
President Donald Trump has exhibited three distinct and documented patterns of behavior that should be weighed by senators as they consider any nominee he puts forward. These patterns present a threat to our electoral system and create troubling conflicts of interest that risk shattering citizen faith in our elections and institutions.
First, Trump has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to wield power and prioritize his personal interests by demanding quid pro quos. We remind the nation and our senators that only nine months ago, documented evidence of this propensity led to the president’s impeachment by the House. During those proceedings, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, spoke passionately from the Senate floor regarding the president’s willingness to corrupt our system by requiring personal favors in exchange for U.S. support.
Second, the president is unable to separate his personal needs from those of the nation. He repeatedly demands that both civil and political servants act in his personal interest — at the expense of equal justice and national security. There are countless examples of the president’s inability to see the bright line that should exist between the institutions and his person. It is unlikely he will respect those lines when an election result or legal consequences are at stake.
Third, Trump’s current campaign for reelection is centered around an aggressive and open attempt to undermine national faith in our electoral process. He has spoken openly about the role he expects “his” judges will play in a contested election and repeatedly equivocates about conceding should he lose. Based simply upon his own posturing, it is reasonable to conclude that the election will not end when votes are counted. Senators should believe his words and act accordingly.
Viewed individually, any one of these patterns should give pause to members of our nation’s deliberative body. Collectively, they are damning evidence of a corrosive and corrupting interference in our elections and public trust. This interference should not be legitimized through a hasty judicial appointment.
The next Supreme Court justice will potentially have the power to cast a deciding vote on the outcome of the 2020 election and offer the president personal immunity; we must also assume he or she will be an unfortunate target of the president’s documented pattern of illegal and inappropriate demands.
Perceptions of undue influence, even if they do not occur, will damage the public faith in the independence of that justice, the Supreme Court as a whole, and the United States Senate. There is no political advantage, partisan reward, or ideological victory worth the risk of further degrading faith in our institutions.
At this moment, the interests of the president and those of the country are in direct, irreconcilable conflict. The members of the Senate must choose between what is best for the president, personally, or what is best for the institutional integrity of the United States of America.
We plead with our senators to put the nation first and defer the appointment process until the nomination can no longer be perceived as directly benefiting a deeply compromised and litigious president.
Jennifer Walker Thomas is the director of nonpartisanship for Mormon Women for Ethical Government.