The New York Times’ Christmas Day editorial tags Senate Republicans for “stealing” a seat on the Supreme Court that should have been filled by President Barack Obama.
The Times accuses Republicans of impugning the institutional integrity of the court by a hyper-partisan charade, arguing the justices derive their legitimacy from their separation from the two political branches of government.
“Mr. McConnell and his allies took a torch to that idea — an outrageous gambit that, to nearly everyone’s shock, has paid off,” the Grey Lady says. “But while Republicans may be celebrating now, the damage they have inflicted on the confirmation process, and on the court as an institution, may be irreversible.”
The prospect of a Republican president appears to have helped the Times’ editorial board discover shortcomings of a confirmation process many believe has been broken for decades.
Just 10 days before the late Justice Antonin Scalia died, Chief Justice John Roberts said during remarks at New England School of Law that the confirmation process “is not functioning very well.”
“Look at my more recent colleagues, all extremely well qualified for the court, and the votes were, I think, strictly on party lines for the last three of them, or close to it, and that doesn’t make any sense,” the chief said. “That suggests to me that the process is being used for something other than ensuring the qualifications of the nominees.”
At times, these confirmations reached the height of rank partisanship. Senate Democrats spent the better part of a day subjecting Justice Samuel Alito to withering questioning so as to determine if he was prejudiced against women and minorities. GOP Sen. Lindsay Graham intervened, hoping a short and direct question would blunt the attacks of his Democratic colleagues.
“Are you a bigot?” he asked.
“I’m not any kind of a bigot,” Alito responded.
The exchange prompted Alito’s wife to burst into tears and leave the committee room. She would return after a short recess.
There is also the matter of Robert Bork, whose name is itself synonymous with dealing ideological body-blows to eminently qualified nominees. Bork’s nomination to the high court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 was rejected by the Senate, after a months-long savaging by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats. Bork’s critics in Congress and in the press were so relentless that they published a record of his videotape rental history, obtained by an enterprising reporter from Potomac Video. The public discovered Bork enjoyed Hitchcock films. (RELATED: Supreme Court Justice Puts Retirement Rumors To Rest – For Now)
Sen. Ted Kennedy would stake much of his legacy on the fight against Bork. His July 1 floor speech railing against the nomination became one of the most famous of his long tenure in Congress. Kennedy said:
Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.
Interestingly, after 30 years the Times has summoned it’s outrage.
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