I’m as disdainful as anyone of Democrats’ attempts to dictate situationally convenient “norms.” The Wall Street Journal this week detailed the Democrats’ own history of breaking standards they had previously held up as having been given to Moses at Sinai. The politicization of Robert Bork’s nomination. Pioneering the use of the filibuster for judicial nominations. Then the removal of that filibuster when the Republicans took up its use themselves.
So not only should a Supreme Court nominee be voted on before the November election, given what I know of the women on the short list, I’d be disappointed if she weren’t confirmed.
That said, committing to vote on a nominee is one thing. It would be irresponsible to commit to vote for a nominee before you know who it is, even if you know everyone on the short list. To the best of my knowledge and to the credit of Republican senators, none of them have been committing to that.
More controversially, some of my Republican friends are pushing the idea of bypassing committee hearings altogether and sending the nomination straight to the floor. That would be a mistake, both on the merits and on the politics.
Lessons of Kavanaugh
On the merits, Judiciary Committee hearings can be a useful opportunity for the country to get to know something about a proposed justice before he or she sits on the court. That is a good thing for a constitutional republic.
I think most people who pay attention to such things have developed a good sense over time for separating out results-oriented attacks from more substantive critique. And most of us are well past knee-jerk weak knees at character assassination attempts like those on Bork, Clarence Thomas, Miguel Estrada, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh.
Politically, committee hearings in the coming weeks are a dangerous minefield for Democrats. Their malicious buffoonery during the Kavanaugh hearings two years ago was a political boon to Republican Senate candidates.
At one point just after the circus that passed for hearings, Republicans had gained significantly on the generic congressional ballot, usually the best predictor of midterm Senate and House results. Had they occurred closer to the election, before memories faded, Republicans might hold two or three more Senate seats than they do, and even might not have lost the House.
Should the Democrats try to repeat that kind of disgraceful demonstration with, say, Amy Coney Barrett, it will likely cost them a great number of votes among their targeted demographic of suburban women. Politically, that’s good regardless of the party in question, because that sort of behavior should be punished.
Saying the Quiet Part Loud
On the other hand, if Democratic senators vote against the nominee without the theater, they’ll have to explain to a disappointed and deflated activist base why they didn’t fight harder against someone they tried to portray as the second coming of Torquemada, or the harbinger of Gilead and the Handmaids.
They might have to be even more explicit about plans to pack the court, which would also rightly cost them votes. Or they might mumble something about doing their best considering the circumstances, in which case they can probably expect their electoral results to match those of pre-1994 congressional Republicans.
So go ahead, be not afraid, and hold those hearings. There’s plenty of time, and it’s the right thing to do.