Sarah Kendzior is a St. Louis, Mo.-based political commentator and author of The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America.
The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh was always about more than Brett Kavanaugh.
It was about more than his rage-filled, vindictive temperament, which last week prompted the American Bar Association, Republican former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, more than 2,400 legal professors, his own classmates as well as religious organizations from multiple denominations to join an already diverse majority of Americans in deeming Justice Kavanaugh unsuitable for the highest court in the United States.
His flaws are so many, his unfitness so obvious, that he achieved what is often said to be impossible in the Donald Trump era: He united Americans of different backgrounds and political persuasions in common cause.
After Saturday’s official Senate vote, naming him to the Supreme Court, we are united in common anguish.
The confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh was, at heart, a referendum on the integrity of U.S. institutions and of the impunity of elites – and the U.S. failed. Senators who purport to believe in rule of law vouched for a judge who sees himself as above it. Senators who purport to believe in democracy honoured a man who degrades it, and did so in deference to a man seemingly attempting to destroy it – President Trump.
Checks and balances are nearly gone. The executive branch was long ago corrupted; the independent legislature neutered by a GOP majority nakedly seeking one-party rule. Until now, the judiciary had been the strongest bulwark against autocracy, having struck down many of Mr. Trump’s unconstitutional executive orders during his first year. The Trump administration responded by packing the courts, appointing right-wing judges to lifetime appointments and purging attorneys they view as opponents. Justice Kavanaugh is the final nail in that coffin.
This is now Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court of the United States, run on white male entitlement and alternative facts. Justice Kavanaugh is expected to act as Mr. Trump’s legal lackey, exonerating him regardless of the charge or the evidence. His appointment may not only end the efficacy of the Robert Mueller probe, but curtail other attempts to prosecute Mr. Trump or his aides on state charges, due to a case, Gamble v. The United States, that the Supreme Court is set to hear this term.
Autocrats rewrite the law so they are no longer breaking it, and they hire and fire accordingly. This is why I have been warning for years that Donald Trump, whose seemingly autocratic consolidation grows stronger every day, was akin to a criminal able to someday select his own judge or delay his own trial – and now he has. This is why a purge of the FBI was followed by a sham FBI investigation into Justice Kavanaugh, reminiscent of those of authoritarian states, with key witnesses and evidence ignored.
For the President, the confirmation of this judge is a hand-picked gift, but for ordinary Americans, he marks the end of truths we deemed self-evident. Justice Kavanaugh marks the imposition of a corrosive new reality. The Supreme Court is likely to roll back decades of hard-earned rights, particularly voting rights, civil rights and women’s rights.
His is a lifetime appointment, meaning that barring impeachment, I will live under this cruel, extremist judge for the rest of my life, as I raise a daughter who will have fewer rights than my son, as I raise two white children who will have more rights than their non-white friends. What we are witnessing is not a step backwards for the U.S. so much as a headlong plunge into a punitive past. Adults must fight this future for the sake of the youngest Americans, who have already lost more than they ever got the chance to know.
On Sept. 28, Senator Patrick Leahy effectively pronounced the American democratic system dead. “This judiciary committee is no longer an independent branch of Congress, and we’re supposed to be. The Senate is supposed to be," he said. "We’re an arm, and a very weak arm, of the Trump White House. A resemblance of independence has just disappeared. It’s gone.”
In less than two years, the United States has lost the executive, legislative, judicial branches to corruption, while other checks – the media, the criminal justice system – remain badly damaged.
That leaves one check: the people. That is why we fight. That is why we protest. That is why we vote. Because we, the people, are all we have left.