The Weaponization of Routine Acts: Judge Jackson’s Confirmation Process Revealed Deeper Senate Schisms

Kash Jain ’24

Opinion Editor

After a confirmation process marked by partisan attacks, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a 53-47 vote. Any illusions that Supreme Court nominations are fair bipartisan processes should be dispensed with—this has become a chiefly political process of airing grievances that have little to do with the candidate and their qualifications. 

Going into the process, many were well aware of the deeply partisan aspects of judicial confirmation. Over the past few years, it has become clear that polarization has turned routine measures, such as executive and judicial appointment confirmations, into points of partisan conflict. A Supreme Court nominee who could get broad bipartisan support is unimaginable, and many agree that the judiciary has become politicized and, frankly, weaponized; but the mechanisms of this erosion of the Senate, its extent, and its goals have been made more clear through Jackson’s confirmation process. 

Many of the questions Republican Senators asked Jackson had little to do with her qualifications or judicial background but served instead as vehicles for culture war arguments or attacks on aspects of Jackson’s work history. Setting aside the problems with Republican Senators taking issue with Jackson’s representation of Guantanamo Bay detainees—a frankly inane stance but one that warrants its own article supporting the right to counsel—these confirmation hearings focused on issues that extend well beyond the Supreme Court and, at many points, the law itself. Unsurprisingly, opposition to Jackson’s confirmation followed along the same lines: claims of left-wing extremism and attacks on Jackson’s judicial philosophy with little argument or even question about her fitness to serve on the court. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in saying why he would vote against Jackson, stated that he found her judicial record to be “frequently disturbing” and that Jackson was the choice “the far left… wanted.”  

The Senate, particularly Senate Republicans, seems to have virtually abandoned what these tests are supposed to be about: is this nominee fit to serve on the Supreme Court? Personal grievances, disputes over public policy that have nothing to do with the nominee, and disdain for political opposition are largely irrelevant to that fundamental question. 

This paints a bleak picture for the future of Supreme Court nominations. It’s unlikely that a candidate nominated by a President whose party does not control the Senate will be appointed, leaving the door open to a vacancy that could last for years due to a refusal to de-politicize the process of filling it. 

But the revelations of this specific process do not stop there—we now see a Senate that is routinely criticized for serving as the deathbed of House-passed policy because they continue to follow down the line of choosing politics over governance. Much of the blame falls on Senate Republicans who, for the most part, appear resistant to making any policy whatsoever—and not just Democrat-led policy, as evidenced by their decision to not fulfill policy goals should they take control of Congress after the midterms. Senate Democrats can’t be completely absolved, as some of their senators have joined Republicans in practicing obstructionism, but most of the caucus still appears to favor enacting policy. Between making policy and conducting routine affairs, it’s clear that Senate Republicans have two goals: firstly, they want to stop anything from being done at the legislative and executive levels, and secondly, they want to ensure right-wing control of the judiciary in a fully-fledged war against civil rights.  

Their own words confirm this. Indiana Republican Senator Mike Braun suggested that he would support the Supreme Court overturning Loving v. Virginia, a decision which legalized interracial marriage. His statement reversing his comments didn’t refute any of his arguments in favor of overturning the case. Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn stated that Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down bans on buying contraceptives, was “constitutionally unsound.” Texas Senator John Cornyn, while questioning Jackson, suggested that the legalization of gay marriage through the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges intruded on religious freedom. Braun, Blackburn, and Cornyn aren’t alone in their hostility to civil rights; it is a vein of hostility that seems to be their party’s core goal—one that confirming Federalist Society-approved judicial picks has helped further. Thus, their fundamental issue with confirming liberal judicial nominees lies in the deep ideological and philosophical divide between Republicans and Democrats that extends well beyond routine acts—yet still endangering them.  

The political fight during Jackson’s confirmation process has revealed a new picture of the Senate and the partisan divide within it, one that is now deeper than ever.  

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