The mad gallop by Republicans to hypocritically confirm a U.S. Supreme Court appointment just days before a presidential election is unseemly, particularly to Canadian eyes.
Canada does not have a politicized Supreme Court. It doesn’t turn the appointment process – remember the Brett Kavanaugh hearings? – into a partisan charade. It mandates that justices retire at 75 instead of serving in perpetuity.
Canada also doesn’t have two-year long election campaigns or absurdly lax campaign-finance regulations. Elections in the north country aren’t threatened by chaos at the ballot box. Canadians know how to count. Political polarization hasn’t been driven to the breaking point, to the point where a president threatens not to recognize the result.
In the United States, with thousands dying from the pandemic, with millions ill, with the economy on its knees, lawmakers have appallingly failed to pass a major a relief package as Canada and other countries have done.
And yet they’re finding the time – having once stood four-square against a previous Democratic court nominee in an election year – to hold these hearings to install a judge whose values hark back to the Ayn Rand era.
Check the issues up for debate at the Senate hearing: Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s positions on abortion rights, LGBTQ issues, gun rights, access to health care. In other jurisdictions, Canada one of them, these debates were held and mostly settled long ago.
This is all not to say Canadians should feel smug. In comparison to the Neanderthal standards set by President Donald Trump and company, what advanced country wouldn’t measure up favourably? Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” is looking more and more like a shanty town.
This week’s hearings saw the Republican senators – led by the syrupy-tongued charlatan Lindsey Graham, who is fighting for his political life in South Carolina – spend most of their time grandstanding, giving political speeches.
From a conservative perspective, Judge Barrett has outstanding qualifications for the Supreme Court post. But Republicans spent more time lauding her for having raised a large family than for her legal pedigree. Can we imagine them extending such lavish praise on a male nominee for his parenting prowess?
Judge Barrett, meanwhile, handled the questioners expertly. She was poised, articulate, precise. She dodged being pinned down on many of the testy issues, but this is normal for Supreme Court nominees.
As a law professor at Notre Dame, she was critical of Supreme Court decisions protecting a woman’s right to choose, of a decision upholding Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, of giving gay and lesbian couples the rights to marry. No wonder Mr. Trump chose her.
Judge Barrett gave repeated assurances that her personal beliefs would not intrude on her legal judgments. On “Obamacare” she would be no pawn of Mr. Trump’s, she vowed. Democrats were hard-pressed to believe her. “I am then left with looking at the tracks of your record and where it leads the American people,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, referencing her evasions, “and I think it leads us to a place that’s going to have severe repercussions for them.”
Republicans have the votes to get Judge Barrett likely confirmed before election day. But barring a 2016-styled deus ex machina development, that day is looking more and more like a calamity for them. Regaining their senses, Americans appear ready to throw Mr. Trump to the wolves and start the long road back. They are well capable. It needs to be remembered that they also elected the refined and sophisticated and erudite Mr. Obama to two presidential terms. Now his vice-president, Joe Biden, is set to step in.
But even if routed in the political war, what the Republicans are doing now in the Senate is securing an emphatic advance in the culture war. The Barrett appointment would give them a 6-3 advantage on the court, a paramountcy neither party has enjoyed in ages.
The court will likely thwart the Democrats on some of the most pressing issues of our times unless Mr. Biden increases its size, something he has strongly opposed. Asked this week about it, he said “I’ve already spoken on – I’m not a fan of court-packing.”
One week after the election, the Supreme Court will be making a critical decision on the future of the Affordable Care Act. Judge Barrett’s presence on the court could seal its doom. She could also be in a position to cast a critical vote on the validity of the election result should Mr. Trump challenge it.
Even if coinciding with a Democratic electoral triumph, her ascendancy will spell more upheaval, stoking rather than taming the flames consuming the Republic.
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