As the Senate Judiciary Committee considered Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination for the Supreme Court over the past few weeks, the proceedings turned into a sham every time Republicans had their turn to speak.
Words like “shameful” and “embarrassing” have been aptly used to describe the GOP’s conduct during the hearings.
Senators like Josh Hawley of Missouri repeatedly harangued Judge Jackson for allegedly sentencing pedophiles too lenient. Ted Cruz attempted to link Jackson to critical race theory (CRT), apparently for no other reason than that she was a black judge. Lindsey Graham unleashed increasingly insane tirades about everything from religion to the remaining detainees at Guantánamo Bay, even storming out of the committee room at one point.
Jackson managed to continue discussing his history calmly and steadily. He wisely chose not to weigh in on lines of questioning about things that were out of his control, like the fairness of the confirmation process for previous candidate Brett Kavanaugh (who has faced sexual assault allegations in the past) or whether President Joe Biden should expand the court. in an effort to appoint more liberal judges. And he did not honor accusations against him that had no basis in reality.
From the moment she was nominated for the Supreme Court, the chances of Jackson being confirmed were pretty good. The slim Democratic majority in the United States Senate allows them advance the candidacy outside the deadlocked committee, and a handful of Republican senators have declared they will vote “yes” for Jackson when his nomination reaches the full Senate, virtually guaranteeing his confirmation.
While Republicans may have hoped to catch Jackson in a big mistake or bring his charges of “soft on crime” against his stick, neither of these scenarios was particularly likely. And the Republican senators who spent days attacking Jackson knew it too. However, these lines of attack against Jackson were deployed with frequency and coordination, demonstrating a clear strategy by the Republican senators. For what possible purpose did such an unwarranted interrogation serve?
While it’s tempting to dismiss these hearings as simply a sign of dysfunction within the Trump-dominated, conspiracy-theory-laden GOP, in reality, the Republicans and their actions at the Jackson hearings are quite functional. They simply are no longer working toward goals that resemble democratic governance.
In many ways, Republicans used the Jackson hearings as an opportunity to create a new set of enemies that Republicans can contend with in November of this year and in 2024. The fact that these enemies do not actually exist was of little consequence. for conservatives. senators on the panel.
If they had bothered to consult the records of other judges, they would have seen that Jackson’s “soft” sentences were entirely in line with others handed down for similar crimes. Had Senator Hawley simply reviewed his own record as Missouri Attorney General, he would have been forced to acknowledge that he, too, was criticized for being too lenient on sex offenders. But Republicans showed no interest in acknowledging this kind of basic context, even as Jackson herself and others raised these points during the hearings.
I will amend my statement that it is of little consequence that the “enemies” of the Republicans do not actually exist. In fact, it is of great importance that the Republican Party insists on fighting the mirages. To understand why this is the case, it is important to understand the history of Republican strategy in recent decades and the social evolution of the country in recent years.
The Republican Party long ago adopted the tactic of presenting itself as the protector of “real” America against some exaggerated or caricatured threat: drug dealers (and users); abortion providers; “wellness queens”; feminists; “the gay agenda”; “terrorists”; “activist judges”; Black Lives Matter protesters; defenders of “awakening” and so on. Along the way, however, the Republican Party has suffered setbacks in its culture wars as the targets of its attacks have become more accepted within society.
As the opioid crisis hit white America, people with drug addictions were increasingly seen as needing medical attention, not incarceration. Same-sex marriage and open LBGTQ military service did not destroy these institutions for straight people, as many Republican detractors had warned. In the 20 years since 9/11, mass shooters and white supremacists have been more deadly threats to Americans than Islamic “extremists.” The murder of George Floyd and others shocked much of the country to confront the very real injustice of racist and institutionalized violence against Black bodies.
Faced with a shrinking list of acceptable adversaries to demonize, Republicans have resorted to inventing them. Instead of saying they oppose LGBTQ rights and educating students about racism, positions that would keep them out of the mainstream of American public opinion, they claim to be against the rogue teachers and activists who “indoctrinate” LGBTQ people. young children with ideas about sexuality and the evil of white people.
Republicans claim to be the only ones standing between innocent, “real” Americans and the reverse racists and sexual predators who would destroy the country. The alternative to creating these imaginary enemies would be to have a genuine debate about the true goals of the GOP, a debate that it is not confident it can win.
Senator Roy Blunt, who will have the opportunity to cast his vote when Jackson’s nomination comes to the Senate floor, illustrated his party’s approach when he spoke about Jackson’s nomination on ABC News last weekend. Blunt admitted that Justice Jackson was “certainly qualified” to serve on the Supreme Court and acknowledged that her selection as the first black female justice “would be a high point for the country.” With this setup, Blunt defied logic by declaring, at about the same time, “I won’t support it.”
Blunt gave a vague rationale for Jackson’s judicial philosophy, alluding to the hackneyed “activist judge” label without making the argument, as it doesn’t really fit Jackson’s record. Instead, Blunt can simply imply that Jackson wants to rewrite the constitution and allow his Republican base to believe such an accusation. Explicitly declaring the impeachment would open it up to scrutiny and invite debate on the merits of the judge’s record, which Blunt and other Republicans know to be quite strong, and show that their opposition to Jackson is rooted in ideology at best. cases and in the worst of prejudices.
This Republican strategy of hiding its true intentions is not motivated by shame, but by convenience. The Republicans realize that they are still operating within a democracy and therefore the path to power, for now, is through winning more votes. When Republicans can circumvent popular opinion, they do so, for example, by packing the federal court, and in particular the Supreme Court, with enough judges and justices to strike down abortion rights and affirmative action. When the GOP can manipulate popular opinion, it does so, both by perpetuating lies like the “stolen” 2020 election and by limiting honest speech on basic issues like race or LGBTQ identity through laws regulating schools. and even companies. And when Republicans can restrict the translation of popular opinion into electoral and political outcomes — in other words, when they can undermine democracy — they have been happy to do so through voter suppression bills, gerrymandering, and attempts at political violence. .
That brings us to the other motivation of last month’s show: rile up the worst elements of the Republican base. The focus on sexual predators was a thinly veiled appeal to the QAnon conspiracy theory that has convinced perhaps millions of right-leaning Americans that the country is literally run by a secret cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles against whom Donald Trump and his devotees are our allies. I just wait.
The anti-CRT tirades are not only a justification for the list of state laws that essentially prohibit teachers from discussing how racism exists, but also provide cover for real racist individuals and policies to operate freely.
So while the Republicans are trying to hide their true goals from most moderate Americans who would be horrified by them, the GOP is also sending signals to its far-right base that its extreme agenda and views are being promoted. constantly for the game.
In the end, none of this matters for Jackson’s nomination. But these political strategies are disappointing, repugnant and dangerous. They represent the desperate but often effective manipulations of a Republican Party that has abandoned its commitments to public service, truth, and even the spirit of democracy in order to gain political power.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.