Breaking American Democracy#
Several times when writing this post, I’ve accidentally typed “democrazy” when meaning to type “democracy.” I think perhaps my subconscious mind has reached a sad, troubling conclusion.
Things are indeed crazy in the American democratic system. If it isn’t already fully broken, it soon could be. The process to replace recently-deceased Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may strain our society past a breaking point. I’m still hoping that cooler heads will somehow prevail.
Listening to the People
I’m going to share my concerns about how this process is unfolding and what I think should happen. I’m a liberal Democrat. You can take my concerns with however many grains of salt you wish. But I’m going to start by articulating a principle I hope most of us can agree on:
The President and the United States Senate should listen to how the majority of Americans want to see this Supreme Court vacancy filled and act accordingly.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos survey, 62 percent of American adults agreed the vacancy should be filled by the winner of the presidential election on Nov. 3rd. This included five in 10 Republicans.
President Trump and Senate Republicans are moving forward without a majority of public support. This troubles me greatly. They are also not abiding by their own rules.
Ignoring Rules and Norms
In 2016, Senate Republicans refused to grant Judge Merrick Garland even a committee hearing when President Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court. Even though there were 237 days until the election, Republicans said a nominee should not be considered in a presidential election year.
I didn’t agree with Republicans' handling of the Garland nomination then and still don’t agree with it now. But I thought we at least had a new Republican-created rule/norm by which they would abide.
Now, President Trump will announce a Supreme Court nominee only 38 days before a presidential election. Hearings will be brief. Many Republican senators are already saying they will vote to confirm the nominee before that person has even been announced.
Many Republicans are still angry about what they saw as unfair treatment of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh by Senate Democrats during his Supreme Court confirmation. I believe that Senate Democrats had an obligation to investigate claims of sexual assault made by three women against Kavanaugh. Perhaps you disagree.
Regardless of how anyone feels about Kavanaugh’s confirmation, it is not an excuse to ignore rules, norms, and public opinion when filling a Supreme Court seat. There shouldn’t be a different confirmation process based on which parties control the White House and the Senate. Something this important shouldn’t be this partisan.
The Republican “Majority”
Republicans should have humility in exercising their power, tacking more toward the center. They have not been elected at the federal level by a majority of American voters and probably won’t be again in November.
Donald Trump lost the national popular vote in 2016. He won the presidency because the less-democratic Electoral College is what decides the race. And he is likely to lose both the national popular vote and the Electoral College in November based on current polling.
Republicans lost the House of Representatives to the Democrats in 2018. Democrats are highly likely to retain it in November according to current polling.
Senate Republicans owe their slim majority not to getting the most votes nationwide, but to each state having two Senators regardless of state population. This makes the Senate 6 to 7 percentage points “redder” than the United States as a whole (analysis here). Despite that advantage, Democrats are slightly favored to take the Senate majority in November based on current polling. Even if that doesn’t happen, a Republican majority would almost certainly be even slimmer.
With the Electoral College and the state-based Senate, the Framers of our Constitution wanted to avoid tyranny by more populous states over more rural ones. Republicans are now are edging close to the reverse.
Republicans should be mindful of how brute-forcing a conservative Supreme Court pick will feel to the majority of Americans who did not vote for them. They should also be mindful of the majority who oppose making this decision before the presidential election. This would be a massive blow to our already-struggling democracy.
Country Before Party
Our democracy is in crisis. We need Republican Senators to be statesmen and stateswomen. It’s a time for putting country before party.
Too many Republicans are acting like a majority of voters want them to push a Supreme Court nominee through in October. This is simply not the case.
In reality, the designs of the Electoral College and state-based Senate have given Republicans outsized power. They will likely lose that power in January. So they should behave in a more centrist and responsible manner. Our democracy is depending on them.