GOP boots chance to make history with court vote

York Dispatch editorial board

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation vote by the full Senate may come as early as this week — and with it, an opportunity for Republicans to turn down the partisan heat in Washington.

Unfortunately, it’s an opportunity a majority of GOP senators have already turned their backs on.

That’s too bad, because Jackson’s nomination should have been an easy, painless way for Republicans to demonstrate an ability to set aside kneejerk partisanship in a manner neither party has been known to do in recent years — and by doing so, accrue a little political capital.

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Instead, more than half of the Senate’s 50 Republicans have already announced their opposition to Jackson, playing to the base rather than attempting to expand it. In doing so, they ignore the following:

► Jackson is all but assured confirmation, particularly with Republican Susan Collins of Maine last week announcing her support.

► Jackson is eminently qualified, given her long and varied courtroom experience and the poise and integrity she demonstrated during four days of Senate testimony.

► Jackson’s nomination is historic. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Republicans who are considering opposing Jackson on partisan grounds would do well to reflect on the late Sen. John McCain’s subsequent regret over having voted against a federal holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Historic votes are rare opportunities.

► Jackson’s confirmation will not change the makeup of the high court. She would be replacing liberal Justice Steve Breyer, leaving conservatives’ 6-3 supermajority intact.

► Supporting Jackson in significant numbers would give Senate Republicans greater license to pressure Democrats to follow their example on future, GOP-backed nominations. 

None of this seems to matter to Republicans, who, despite pledges to treat President Joe Biden’s first Supreme Court nominee better than recent Republican nominees were treated by Democrats, resorted to soundbite-seeking theatrics. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, waving a copy of a book called “Antiracist Baby,” demanded to know if the nominee thought babies were racist. It got worse: Referring to the explosive 2018 hearings for now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Cruz told Jackson, “No one is going to inquire about your teenage dating habits.” (Why would they? She was not accused, as was Kavanaugh, of committing an act of sexual assault as a teenager — an act Cruz cavalierly dismisses as a “dating habit!”)

Cruz was hardly alone. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee, tried to bait Jackson by asking her to “provide a definition of the word ‘woman’.” And Sen. Josh Hawley, of Missouri, was foremost among senators attempting to trump up Jackson’s slight but hardly unusual record on sentencing in cases involving child pornography.

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Jackson parried the querulous queries with aplomb. So much so, in fact, that a Quinnipiac University poll found a majority of Americans not only support her nomination but disapproved of how Republicans handled the process.

Still, Republicans — those who have gone on the record, anyway — are overwhelmingly objecting to the nominee. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, not only announced his opposition but has been lobbying his partymates furiously to follow suit. His thinking, evidently, is to continue to mischaracterize Jackson’s sentencing record, the better to pad the GOP’s soft-on-crime narrative against Democrats in the upcoming midterms.

Among Senate Republicans who have not yet declared their position is Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey. His brief statement upon meeting with Jackson last week was complimentary but noncommittal. 

Should he decide to base his decision on the nominee’s credentials and not, like McConnell, et al., on partisan calculations, the outgoing senator would burnish his legacy with a show of support for Jackson. All Republican senators would — that’s the irony.

By opposing a well-qualified, historic Supreme Court nominee, Republicans are missing a rare political opportunity to do well by doing good. A majority of Americans do not look favorably on that position today. History will not look favorably on it in the future.