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EDITORIAL: Politics, not civics, poisons Senate process for jurists

EDITORIAL: Politics, not civics, poisons Senate process for jurists

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Last week the Trib published an abridged version of Republican Sen. Ben Sasse’s seemingly benign lecture about civics versus politics, delivered to rankled Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee braced to question Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett during confirmation hearings. Sasse is one of our favorite Republicans, partially because he seems built of more genuine conservative timber than most Republicans today. But in the case of his Civics 101 lecture, Sasse defines the word “disingenuous.”

For those who didn’t read his words here, Sasse stressed that confirmation hearings should fall under the category of civics in which senators agree to question Supreme Court nominees about their judicial qualifications and approach to the Constitution and the law. At one point, he lightly chided a Democratic senator for bringing up health-care legislation when that’s politics, he said, not civics. He lamented horribly that qualified jurists can no longer go through the Senate confirmation process without prompting sharply divisive votes, that not too terribly long ago Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia each went through the process and garnered “confirmation votes of 95 or 98 votes.”

Nice speech but rings hollow, especially given how Sasse’s party has helped poison and politicize the confirmation process as well as the high court. Not only President Trump but many of Sasse’s Republican colleagues campaigned on placing on the court only justices who will strike down the Roe v. Wade ruling that allows women, with certain restrictions, the right to an abortion. The nominee herself has previously called for an end to the “barbaric legacy” of Roe v. Wade, which sure sounds political and prejudicial, certainly not evidence of a jurist approaching complex cases with a lack of bias. She also failed to disclose, as required, talks she gave in 2013 hosted by anti-abortion groups. However you view the issue itself, that sort of rhetoric and deceit can make a Supreme Court pick political, even toxic.

Ditto when the president says he wants another justice on the court to help if his re-election bid winds up in the Supreme Court, as we saw in Bush v. Gore. If any law or history professor tells you that judges and justices aren’t political animals beneath their robes, walk out of the class.

Judicial nominee without biases? Trump vowed to appoint justices who would destroy the Affordable Care Act and he’s now tapped a nominee who has written in an academic journal that she believes the act legally questionable — and if she’s placed on the high court in coming days, she’ll be poised to help the Trump administration do what it couldn’t in Congress: scrap the ACA, including protections for those of us with pre-existing conditions.

No biases? Who’s kidding who? Add in Republicans’ on-again/off-again principle on whether to confirm Supreme Court justices during an election year and it’s clear this process is nothing but political. That’s why confirmation votes are no longer nearly unanimous — and why Democrats now talk of packing the courts. Welcome to Politics 101, Sen. Sasse.

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