The stakes of Brett Kavanaugh's SCOTUS nomination
Not many college students are avid C-SPAN viewers. This makes a lot of sense; even the quietest campus offers more exciting Friday night options than watching the nuts and bolts of our nation’s political process. But anyone who was watching C-SPAN from Sept. 4 to Sept. 7 would have seen the initial screening of the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
The most dramatic feature of the screening is not Kavanaugh himself; he responds to all pertinent questions with careful and precise evasion, as is expected of Supreme Court nominees during their confirmation hearings. The most forceful words came from the Democratic senators interviewing him. In one pointed moment, Sen. Kamala Harris, (D-Calif.) , “Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the male body?” Suspicious baseball ticket purchases and possible gambling debts were also discussed.
But the hearings were only the beginning. In the days following, intense scrutiny was directed towards the small handful of undecided senators who will make the ultimate decision. The attention was for good reason: Kavanaugh’s confirmation is a major issue that should interest not just the type of college student who watches C-SPAN, but all Americans.
There’s no question about it: In the upcoming vote, the confirmation of Kavanaugh is a likely thing. A quick recap of the process of seating a new Supreme Court justice, in case AP Government wasn’t your jam. The judge in question is nominated by the president and, after a long and complex series of background checks, committee hearings, and debates, is voted on by the Senate. All that is needed to confirm the judge is a simple majority of 51 senators voting yes. The vote on Kavanaugh will take place in late September, at the earliest. The Senate’s voting falls along disturbingly partisan lines, making it very likely that Kavanaugh, a conservative justice, will be voted in by the majority-Republican Senate. Those of you who did take AP Government may be wondering, “Shouldn’t Supreme Court justices, meant to be figures of impartiality, be elevated beyond the partisan divide?” This may have been true in Justice Brandeis’ day — but this is 2018.
The odds are in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but it is far from inevitable.There are senators who are undecided or at least haven’t told the media which way they’ll vote. On the Democratic side, there are senators from Trump-leaning states like Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va) and Heidi Heitkamp, (D-Minn.) who are up for re-election in the 2018 midterms. They’re in a tricky predicament. Either they vote for Kavanaugh and anger their core left-wing supporters, or they vote against him and anger the more conservative voters whose support they also need to win. On the Republican side are senators like Lisa Murkowski, (R-Ark.) and Susan Collins, (R-Maine) whose voting records are quite conservative, but who also rely on voters repulsed by Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Now, if all these details makes your eyes glaze over, remember that the stakes here are huge. Democrats are already frustrated at President Trump’s successful nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the court, as they believed the seat rightfully belonged to Merrick Garland. Garland, the chief judge of the Third Circuit court, was nominated by President Obama in 2016 to fill the vacancy created when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. Before Garland’s name was even announced, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.) flat-out refused to consider replacing Justice Scalia until President Obama was out of office. But for all that controversy, Gorsuch was a right-wing judge replacing another right-wing judge; Justice Scalia was among the most conservative justices ever to sit on the court. Even with Justice Gorsuch, the tenuous balance of the court’s political makeup remained the same. Kavanaugh, on the other hand, would replace the newly retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy was definitely right-wing, but made exceptions, leaning to the left on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion access. Kavanaugh would undeniably be a far more conservative justice.
Substituting a “center right with occasional allowances” judge for a hard-right one might not sound too dramatic, but don’t underestimate it. The Supreme Court is a mind-blowingly powerful body. Issues as diverse as labor union power, LGBT issues, affirmative action and healthcare could be fundamentally impacted if Kavanaugh gets confirmed. What’s more, Supreme Court justices hold their positions for life, meaning the right-wing court that the Trump administration is forging will continue long after he leaves office. For a historical reference point, both Justice Kennedy and Justice Scalia were appointed by President Ronald Reagan. They got their jobs back when people thought perms were a good idea.
To illustrate Kavanaugh’s importance, let’s discuss one issue he could influence: abortion access. Currently, the law of the land is defined by Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 Supreme Court case. Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide in the first and second trimesters while leaving the legality of third trimester abortions up to individual states. The letter of the law paints a far more pro-choice picture than the modern reality, however, since conservatives have been gradually weakening Roe v. Wade for decades. They’ve passed so-called “TRAP laws”, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, which put a host of legal restrictions on abortion clinics designed to increase operating costs. Additionally, some states require women go through extra procedures before getting an abortion, such as listening to their fetus’s heartbeat, going through state mandated counseling that tells them having an abortion will give them breast cancer, and so forth. These laws have been plenty successful on their own. Mississippi, for instance, has only one remaining abortion clinic, according to . But with a more conservative court, these restrictions could get even more stringent.
Alternatively, Roe v. Wade could be overturned altogether. There are currently 13 abortion-related cases making their way through the courts, and if selected to be decided by a court with Kavanaugh on it, any one of them could provide a platform for overturning Roe v. Wade. If this were to happen, not only would many state legislatures move to ban abortion — but some wouldn’t even need to. North and South Dakota, Louisiana and Mississippi have “trigger laws” on the books that will automatically ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. In short, the vote happening early next month could very easily lead to a 50-year backslide in women’s reproductive rights — and that’s only one issue.
C-SPAN may be boring, but these are not topics that only concern policy wonks and political junkies. Whatever your political views, it is impossible to deny that these potential rulings will fundamentally affect the lives of everyday Americans.
At the end of the day, the situation looks grim for the Democrats. True, there are undecided senators, but both Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Collins voted to confirm Justice Gorsuch last time around. Our current hyper-partisan environment makes a Kavanaugh confirmation quite likely. Elections have consequences. And when it comes to the Supreme Court, the consequences are dramatic.