As the Senate Judiciary Committee considered Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination for the past few weeks, the proceedings veered into farce every time Republicans got 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 have repeatedly harangued Judge Jackson for allegedly handing out too lenient sentences to pedophiles. Ted Cruz attempted to tie Jackson to Critical Race Theory (CRT), apparently for the sole reason that she was a black judge. Lindsey Graham unleashed increasingly haphazard rants on everything from religion to remaining detainees at Guantanamo Bay, even storming out of the committee room at one point.
Jackson managed to calmly and consistently stick to discussing his case. She wisely chose not to speak out on questions about things that were out of her control, such as the fairness of the confirmation process for former nominee Brett Kavanaugh (who faced sexual assault charges past) or whether President Joe Biden should expand the court in an effort to appoint more liberal justices. And she did not honor the charges against her which had no basis in reality.
From the moment she was nominated to the Supreme Court, Jackson’s chances of being confirmed were pretty good. The wafer-thin Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate allows them to push the nomination out of the deadlocked committee, and a handful of Republican senators have said they will vote “yes” for Jackson when his nomination reaches the full Senate, practically guaranteeing its confirmation. .
While Republicans may have been hoping to either catch Jackson in a major gaffe or lay their “soft on crime” charges against his baton, neither scenario was particularly likely. And the GOP senators who spent several days attacking Jackson knew it, too. Yet these lines of attack against Jackson have been deployed frequently and with coordination, demonstrating a clear strategy on the part of Republican senators. What was the use of such an unjustified fence?
While it’s tempting to dismiss these hearings as just a sign of dysfunction within the Trump-dominated, conspiracy-laden Republican Party, in reality, the Republicans and their actions at Jackson’s hearings are entirely functional. They are simply no longer working towards goals that resemble democratic governance.
In many ways, Republicans used the Jackson hearings as an opportunity to create a new set of enemies Republicans can come up against in November of this year and in 2024. The fact that those enemies don’t actually exist mattered little to the Conservatives. panel senators.
If they had bothered to consult the records of other judges, they would have seen that Jackson’s “soft” sentences were entirely consistent with those handed down for similar crimes. If Senator Hawley had simply reviewed his own record as Missouri attorney general, he would have been forced to acknowledge that he has also been criticized for being too soft on sex offenders. But Republicans have shown no interest in acknowledging this kind of basic context, even when Jackson herself and others have raised these points in the hearings.
I will modify my assertion that it doesn’t matter that Republican “enemies” don’t actually exist. It is actually very important that the GOP insists on fighting mirages. To understand why this is the case, it is important to understand the history of Republican strategy over the past decades and the social evolution of the country in recent years.
The Republican Party has long adopted the tactic of portraying itself as the protector of the “real” America against an exaggerated or caricatured threat: drug dealers (and users); abortion providers; “queens of well-being”; feminists; the “gay agenda”; “The Terrorists”; “activist judges”; Black Lives Matter protesters; advocates “revival” and so on. Along the way, however, the GOP suffered setbacks in its culture wars as the targets of its attacks became more accepted within society.
As the opioid crisis hit white America, drug addicts were increasingly seen as needing medical attention, not incarceration. Same-sex marriage and open LBGTQ military service did not destroy those institutions for straight people, as many Republican opponents had warned. In the 20 years since 9/11, mass killers and white supremacists have posed more deadly threats to Americans than Islamist “extremists.” The killing of George Floyd and others has caused much of the country to come to terms with the true injustice of racist, institutionalized violence against black bodies.
Faced with a dwindling list of acceptable opponents to demonize, the Republicans resorted to their invention. Rather than saying they oppose LGBTQ rights and educating students about racism — positions that would put them out of the mainstream of American public opinion — they claim to be against teachers and rogue activists who “indoctrinate” young children with ideas about sexuality and white person evil.
Republicans claim to be the only ones standing between the innocent “true” Americans and the backward racists and sexual predators who would destroy the country. The alternative to creating these imaginary enemies would be to have a real debate about the true goals of the Republican Party – a debate it is not sure it can win.
Sen. Roy Blunt, who will have the chance to vote when Jackson’s nomination hits the Senate, exemplified his party’s approach when discussing Jackson’s nomination on ABC News last weekend. Blunt conceded 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 then defied logic by declaring, almost in the same breath, “I won’t support her.”
Blunt gave a vague rationale for Jackson’s judicial philosophy – alluding to the well-worn label of “activist judge” without really making the point because it doesn’t quite fit Jackson’s case. Instead, Blunt may simply imply that Jackson wants to rewrite the constitution and allow his Republican base to believe such an accusation. Explicitly stating the charge would open it up to scrutiny and invite debate on the merits of the judge’s case, which Blunt and other Republicans know is quite strong, and demonstrate that their opposition to Jackson is rooted in ideology at best and prejudice at worst.
This Republican strategy of concealing their true intentions is not motivated by shame, but by expediency. Republicans realize that they are still operating within a democracy, and so the path to power – for now – is through getting more votes. When Republicans can circumvent popular opinion, they do so — such as by stacking the federal bench, and especially the Supreme Court, with enough justices and justices to take down abortion rights and affirmative action. When the GOP can manipulate popular opinion, so too does it — both by perpetuating lies like the “stolen” 2020 election and by limiting honest speech on core topics like race or LGBTQ identity. through laws regulating schools and even businesses. 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 suppression bills. voters, gerrymandering and attempts at political violence.
That brings us to the other motivation for last month’s show: annoying the worst elements of the Republican base. The focus on sexual predators was a thinly veiled appeal to the QAnon conspiracy theory that may have convinced millions of right-wing Americans that the country is literally run by a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles against whom Donald Trump and his devotees are our only hope.
Anti-CRT screeds are not only a vindication of the list of state laws that essentially prohibit teachers from discussing how racism exists, but also thereby provide cover for actual racist individuals and policies to operate freely. .
So while the Republicans attempt to conceal their true agendas from the majority of moderate Americans who would be appalled by them, the GOP is also sending signals to its far-right base that their extreme agenda and views are regularly promoted by the party. .
In the end, none of that matters to 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 abandoned its commitments to public service, truth, and even the spirit of democracy in order to gain political power.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.