The confirmation of then-Judge Amy Coney Barrett to a lifetime appointment on the United States Supreme Court has been a long time coming. All told, nights and weekends included, it’s been, give or take a day, about 33 years.
In 1987, when Justice Lewis Powell announced his resignation from the high court, the Democrats went to war. They made federal judicial confirmations—hitherto staid, formal and collegial affairs—into battle royales.
The opening shots were fired by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who took to the Senate floor to assault the character of the man chosen as Powell’s replacement: Judge Robert Bork, a former U.S. solicitor general and distinguished professor of law at Yale.
Thus, the judicial nomination process was forever changed. Ever since, each party has blamed the other for starting it all. In reality, most of the blame lies with the Democrats, who, after the politics of personal destruction proved so effective against Bork, have repeatedly used smears, insinuations and arguments about character to try to keep conservative originalists off the federal bench. Sometimes, when Democrats controlled the Senate, they wouldn’t give Republican nominees the courtesy of even a hearing. Contrary to what you’ve heard, it didn’t start with Merrick Garland—ask Miguel Estrada, Priscilla Owen or any of the other George W. Bush judicial picks whose nominations to the various appellate courts were held up or blocked completely due to partisan concerns.
Each time the battle over the courts escalated, it was Democrats who almost always drew first blood. It was Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who made it possible to force lower court confirmations through with 51 votes, rather than 60, and who used that power to stack the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—second in influence only to the U.S. Supreme Court—with appointments made by President Barack Obama.
Now, over the screams, complaints, wailing and gnashing of teeth from progressives who fear what is in store for their agenda, Judge Amy Coney Barrett has become Justice Amy Coney Barrett, thanks in no small part to the way these same opponents rigged the system to operate in their favor. There’s some justice in that.
Everything about her nomination and confirmation was legal, fair and according to the rules as they now are—thanks to Kennedy, Reid and others who corrupted the process. Fortunately for them, Justice Barrett—while she provides the crucial fifth vote to establish something of an originalist majority, as well as being the sixth vote for a center-right one—has not taken her new post with the intention of rewriting the Constitution according to her personal values.
She made that clear after she took her oath of office, saying:
“It is the job of a senator to pursue her policy preferences. In fact, it would be a dereliction of duty for her to put policy goals aside. By contrast, it is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences. It would be a dereliction of duty for her to give into them. Federal judges don’t stand for election. Thus, they have no basis for claiming that their preferences reflect those of the people. This separation of duty from political preference is what makes the judiciary distinct among the three branches of government.”
The Democrats still intend to pack the high court, if they are able to do so. If able, they will attempt to add enough justices to allow the court to make policy for a generation or more. They will find within the Constitution, no doubt, the rights to health care, free public education, taxpayer-funded abortion on-demand, strict regulation and limitation of the private ownership of firearms, compulsion of workers to join unions and whatever else is on their political agenda that doesn’t pass muster with the voters. Instead of pausing, they’ll push on through, eliminating the restrictions on government and expanding its reach. If they succeed.
If they don’t succeed, America finally has the chance to put part of the genie back in the bottle, and to restore to the democratic process the importance of the individual that the reliance on the courts as the last word on everything has increasingly obscured. The elevation of Justice Barrett gives us one more shot at getting it right. Let’s hope, for all our sakes, that the court seizes the opportunity.
The next election will determine the direction of the United States Supreme Court and have a lot to say about its future. Given the outsized role its decisions play in the political life of the nation, that’s important and an issue worth voting on.
The court makes policy and law from the bench. Those who wrote the U.S. Constitution believed those functions were best left to the Congress, the president, and the states. To change that, to limit the ability of the justices to usurp the role of our elected representatives requires the addition of a justice or two who believe they are constrained by the law.
If Donald Trump wins, that’s the likely outcome. Given the precarious health of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he’ll probably get at least one appointment in his second term. And if that happens, and Chief Justice John Roberts is no longer the deciding vote on key cultural and legal matters, his recent flirtation with the court’s liberal wing might come to an end. It’s unlikely he’ll want to be on the losing side of decisions that come down 5-to-4.
If Joe Biden wins, things will go in the opposite direction, especially if Republicans lose control of the U.S. Senate in November. Then, free of any restraint the filibuster might have imposed, the Democrats could easily pass through Congress legislation packing the court with so many new members the center-right majority currently in place would quickly become a distant memory.
In that world, expect the most radical of ideas to be affirmed by a majority of 2-to-1. The new Biden judges would side with existing liberals to find within the Constitution everything from the right to abortion on demand at any time during pregnancy up to and including the onset of labor, the right to universal healthcare, free education, a guaranteed national income, and the abolition of the private ownership of most firearms. The democratic process would be subverted by activist judges more concerned about results than the law.
It would be the tipping point leading to the downfall of the American system. Accomplished quickly if not quietly, it would perpetuate the advance of progressivism for a century if not more. Those opposed to that outcome should tread carefully so as not to help the enemies of liberty get what they want.
Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, for some time considered one of the bright lights of the party’s future, has weighed in on this discussion in a big way. A state attorney general before winning his seat in the U.S. Senate he recently told The Washington Post he would “only vote for those Supreme Court nominees who have explicitly acknowledged that Roe v. Wade is wrongly decided.”
“By explicitly acknowledged, I mean on the record and before they were nominated,” he added. “I want to see on the record, as part of their record, that they have acknowledged in some forum that Roe v. Wade, as a legal matter, is wrongly decided.”
Taking that position publicly is, as one prominent conservative leader told me privately, “destructively stupid.” As a practical matter, more than one pro-life activist brought to my attention, on that one point Hawley could have voted enthusiastically to confirm Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter while being forced to oppose adding Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito to the high court.
Admittedly our confidence in some of our judicial nominees has been misplaced. Dwight Eisenhower bungled things several times, not just by appointing Earl Warren as chief justice. Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes made appointments they’d probably have liked to reconsider after they joined the court. The vetting process before the nomination is extremely important and must continue. Trump’s idea to release a list of potential nominees sets a precedent every other presidential candidate should follow. But vetting and litmus tests are two extremely different things. One has its place and one doesn’t, at least not among those who say they are proponents of intellectual freedom.
Hawley’s newfound insistence loads the gun the progressives will use, in the metaphoric sense, to shoot any nominee who’d possibly be any good from a pro-life, limited government, strict constitutionalist perspective. The senator’s heart may be in the right place, but the GOP is not the party that marches in ideological lockstep on every issue. That’s the other team. They’re the ones who use emanating penumbras to find things in the Constitution that Madison, Hamilton, and others didn’t put into it. They’re the ones who place political, social, and economic outcomes over the rule of law. That’s a major difference between us and them and Trump and Biden.
By John McCormack • National Review
In Tuesday’s Wisconsin supreme-court election, conservatives appear to have scored a shocking upset victory. With only a handful of precincts left to report, conservative-backed Brian Hagedorn leads liberal-backed Lisa Neubauer by nearly 6,000 votes out of 1.2 million cast, according to unofficial results.
The liberal Neubauer called for a recount, which a losing candidate may do — if she pays for it herself — when the margin is less than one percentage point. (Taxpayers pick up the tab at margins less than 0.25 points.) But a lead of 6,000 votes would almost certainly be insurmountable in a recount, assuming there were no unusually large tabulation errors Tuesday night, as there was in a 2011 supreme-court election in the state.
Hagedorn’s likely victory comes as a surprise to many. There wasn’t any public polling, but one Republican GOP operative in Wisconsin tells National Review that private polling in the closing weeks showed Hagedorn trailing by mid-to-high single digits. Continue reading
In a 2006 interview, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said the Constitution is “basically about” one word — “democracy” — that appears in neither that document nor the Declaration of Independence. Democracy is America’s way of allocating political power. The Constitution, however, was adopted to confine that power in order to “secure the blessings of” that which simultaneously justifies and limits democratic government — natural liberty.
The fundamental division in U.S. politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinite, realm of freedom, and those whose fundamental value is the right of the majority to have its way in making rules about which specified liberties shall be respected. Continue reading