Alan Zendell, September 26, 2018
Amid the hype and exaggerations of presidential campaigns we continually hear candidates boast about the things they’re going to do after they’re elected. Caught up in the noise that precedes a presidential election, most Americans forget that there are very few things a president can do on his own authority.
As President Trump learned to his great displeasure, the president can’t force health care legislation to be passed, he cannot arbitrarily change immigration policy on his own, and he can’t bestow tax cuts on his supporters unless the Congress goes along with him. So what can the president do?
He can issue executive orders as long as they don’t violate the Constitution or existing statutes, all of which can be reversed by subsequent orders. The president can order military actions, but only the Congress can declare war. The most significant thing a president can do is appoint federal judges, and the most important of those are appointments of justices to the Supreme Court.
If Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination is confirmed by the Senate, he could serve in that capacity for as long as forty years. If you’re middle-aged, that’s probably the rest of your life. Your children and grandchildren will likely live with the consequences of his influence on the Court for half of their lives. That’s more important than anything else you see on your favorite news program.
Don’t be distracted. The UN General Assembly laughing at our president’s boasts and the rebukes by our European allies of his heavy-handed attempts to intimidate them are pretty important. The threats to our security posed by Iran and North Korea are damned important, too. The continuing love affair between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is both important and amusing, but all of those together pale in significance to filling the current vacancy on the Supreme Court.
In 1991 the Senate Judiciary Committee heard charges of sexual misconduct against Justice Clarence Thomas and despite the credible testimony of his accuser, Anita Hill, concluded that they were insignificant. President Trump was accused of sexual misconduct by nearly twenty women during the 2016 presidential campaign, but voters, especially women, elected him anyway. The Kavanaugh hearing is occurring under different circumstances, however.
Trump’s approval rating among women is dropping precipitously, and nearly a third of women who voted for him now tell pollsters they regret doing so. Perhaps more important, the MeToo movement is enjoying a groundswell of support from both women and men that has brought down celebrities and politicians who until now have thought themselves untouchable. And looming over the proceedings are the mid-term elections which will either affirm The Republican majorities in the Congress or end Trump’s ability to behave with impunity.
There’s a growing sense among voters that we are approaching a defining moment in our country’s history. Americans, especially women are watching as their representatives perform on live TV, and they hear every disparaging word uttered by the president. In the past hundred years we’ve seen women rise up and assert themselves on a national scale – the suffrage movement, women’s liberation, the women’s marches on Washington and more than one Year of the Woman. But never before has the future direction of our nation been more squarely in the hands of women.
Three women have now made credible accusations about the character and integrity of Brett Kavanaugh. They offered to testify under oath and requested investigations of their claims by law enforcement, and one of them has filed a deposition with the Senate under penalty of perjury. Every day, classmates who knew Kavanaugh well both at Georgetown Prep and Yale come forward to challenge his truthfulness and choir boy image, while prominent people who originally supported Kavanaugh’s nomination are withdrawing their support.
It’s unlikely that a Senate hearing will be able to establish the truth of all these allegations. As Senator Jeff Flake (R, Arizona) said today, the only thing certain about this decision is that it will be made under a cloud of doubt. One thing is clear. Rushing to judgment and forcing this nomination through the Senate reeks with impropriety. Once Kavanaugh is confirmed it will be impossible to reverse that decision.
The President’s supporters claim that failing to fill the vacancy immediately threatens our national security. That’s utter nonsense. They allowed the Court to function with an unfilled vacancy for more than a year when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill it.
President Trump has declared that opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination is entirely political. He’s right, but it’s no more political than either the nomination itself or the Republican Senate’s attempts to force it through before the election. Of course it’s political. Politics is the means by which we conduct our national business. What’s important is whether that business is conducted in the best interests of the country.
If the Judiciary Committee proceeds without verifying the veracity of sworn allegations, they will make a mockery of the confirmation process and seriously damage the integrity of the Court. I urge everyone, especially those who have to cast votes on the nomination to listen to Senator Flake’s speech and heed his warning. This is too important for partisanship to rule.