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Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination is emblematic: We are headed into uncharted waters

The hearings, which began this morning, are a bit of a sham and not subtly so.

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in during the first day of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in during the first day of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS

To state the obvious, Amy Coney Barrett is apparently smart in legal matters and a person of good character in her personal life, and might have made a fine nominee for Supreme Court justice under different circumstances.

But under the existing circumstances, her nomination is little more than the fulfillment of a campaign promise made by the deeply religious and moral Donald Trump to evangelical Christians and Catholics that if they entrusted him with the job formerly held by Washington and Lincoln, he would get Roe v. Wade overturned, and perhaps make other rulings friendly to the religious over the irreligious, and the corporate citizens rather than the human citizens and get rid of the hated Obamacare and especially its despised (by insurance companies) requirement that health care policies not discriminate against those with preexisting conditions.

To continue stating the obvious, that isn’t the way these things were supposed to work, according to the Constitution, which I used to call “The Myth That Binds Us.”

But that myth is over. Supreme Court appointments are now politicized and weaponized. The entirely unelected third branch of the federal system is now roughly as politicized as the other two, with the exception that its legislator-judges never have to stand for reelection.

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This is a serious, serious problem for the myth that binds us. (Trump, who so often says the quiet part out loud, has even said publicly and not even very obliquely that he needs an extra ally on the court to help him steal the election after he loses. Trump has also wooed the support of evangelicals by promising to use his court appointments to get Roe v. Wade overturned.

So the hearings, which began this morning, are a bit of a sham and not subtly so.

I write this in the late morning, with the hearings on break and without Barrett yet having taken a single question nor made her opening statement. I’ll keep watching and maybe something interesting will happen. But let’s not get hung up on details.

The system is broken. The myth that binds us is broken. It survived based on previous political understandings by most of the key players that it was very, very important to the American experiment that the myth be preserved. 

Then came Trump and, I’ll add, Sen. Mitch McConnell. They not only don’t believe in myths, they don’t care about the key part where keeping the myth alive was fairly crucial to the ongoing function of our constitutional system.

A system that binds us through the power of a myth seems like a shaky proposal. But it has lasted two centuries-plus. We are heading into uncharted territory, and we have a president who doesn’t care what binds us, so long as he gets his way.