From a historical perspective, the confirmation of federal Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court is illustrative and instructive of what is and has been happening in Washington, DC.
To appreciate just how stark this scenario contrasts with Supreme Court appointments of the past, let’s take a moment to review a nomination by President Warren G. Harding. On September 1, 1922, Associate Justice John H. Clarke submitted a letter to the President announcing his intention to resign from the Court. Four days later, on Sept. 5, Pres. Harding submitted the name of George Sutherland to the Senate for its advice and consent. Though Sutherland was out of the country at the time on a lecture tour in England, before the sun set that same day the Senate confirmed him, on a unanimous voice vote.
The point here is not to prosecute anew – which would be ad nauseam, actually – issues regarding the qualification and suitability of soon-to-be Associate Justice Gorsuch. It is, rather, to take a moment to reflect on the manner and functionality of the process by which the United States Senate exercises its Advice and Consent role in the appointment, by the President, of members of the Supreme Court (see Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution).
In contrast to what just a few decades ago were constructive and respectful instances of the Senate fulfilling its function and exercising its authority as a deliberative body when Court vacancies so require, is what has deteriorated into the spectacle played out over the past several weeks.
Whether we mark the decline as beginning with the borking of Robert Bork, the disturbing mistreatment of then-nominee Clarence Thomas, or the partisan drubbing of Samuel Alito, to describe these comparatively recent Senate hearings as protracted ordeals would be understatement.
Now consider what we have just witnessed – complete with language rife with partisan and personal rancor; charges of “unprecedented partisan filibuster,” “bulldozing long-held Senate practice,” “never-ending judicial war;” culminating in the deployment of the “nuclear option.”
Hard to imagine, isn’t it, as we reflect on our current national civic circumstances.
Perhaps Benjamin Franklin’s reply to those inquiring what the 1787 Constitutional Convention had just accomplished doesn’t seem so yesteryear, after all: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Clearly, politics is failing.
Considering this troubling if not perilous trajectory that has unfolded over the last relatively few years, is it time for us as Americans to ask, ‘Is this the culture, the kind of society we want for our children and grandchildren?’