Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to retire after a long and admirable career leaves an open seat on our nation’s highest court. In an ideal world, the process for filling this seat would be simple, straightforward and above all, non-political.
Sadly, it will be anything but.
As the former chairman and the longest-serving member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have fought on the frontlines of the most contentious confirmation battles of modern times. I have participated in the confirmation of half of all federal judges who have ever served, not to mention the confirmation of every sitting member of the Supreme Court. In that time, I have witnessed the rapid deterioration of the judicial nomination process as Democrats have stooped to new lows in a radical effort to redefine the Constitution and politicize our courts.
The politicization of judicial confirmations began with the character assassination of Judge Robert Bork more than 30 years ago. Here was a preeminently qualified nominee: a Yale Law professor with sterling academic credentials and a distinguished record on the federal bench. In his commitment to putting the law before politics, Judge Bork embodied everything the Founders would have wanted in a Supreme Court justice — which is exactly why Democrats opposed him.
They knew that Judge Bork would interpret the Constitution as written instead of twisting its meaning to fit the demands of a progressive agenda. Remarkably, Democrats went a step further in not only voting against Judge Bork’s nomination but openly slandering him on the Senate floor, doing irreparable damage to the reputation of one of the most talented jurists of the last century.
Thus the first shots were fired in what became known as the Confirmation Wars.
The years that followed saw one escalation after another as Democrats detonated decades of established precedent in an all-out blitz to politicize our courts. Whether it was the unholy inquisition of Clarence Thomas, the indefensible filibuster of Samuel Alito, or the public flagellation of Neil Gorsuch, the left has repeatedly violated the norms governing the judicial confirmation process. Each act of liberal indiscretion — each attempt to sully the name of a qualified nominee and inject politics into the process — is part and parcel of the progressive project to radically remake the federal judiciary.
Democrats dream of packing our courts with activist judges who act less as impartial arbiters of the law and more as super-legislators: men and women who not only interpret the Constitution but actively work to change its meaning through their opinions.
It’s no wonder, then, that my colleagues on the left have made a circus of confirmation hearings over the years. Liberal senators seek to politicize the process because ultimately they seek political judges — partisan allies who will uphold their constitutionally questionable legislation when it comes before the courts.
Given their vision of a politicized judiciary, we should not be surprised when Democrats cry bloody murder at the announcement of the president’s Supreme Court nominee. The coming meltdown on the left is sure to be as sensational as it is predictable.
Just as he did with Neil Gorsuch, the president has promised to nominate an impartial judge, a wise and seasoned jurist committed to upholding the Constitution at all costs. But no matter the nominee’s background or credentials, progressives will do everything they can to paint her as a closet partisan, if not an outright extremist. They will press, prod, and pry to unearth a radical agenda where none is to be found. They will pull out all the stops to accelerate the politicization of the Supreme Court — but they will have to go through me first.
For my part, I will do everything in my power to keep politics out of the confirmation process. As the senior member of the Judiciary Committee, I will fight to keep jurisprudence as the sole focus of our confirmation hearings. And I will devote all my energies to ensuring that we confirm the kind of Supreme Court justice America needs: a justice who says what the law is, not what she wants it to be; a justice who calls balls and strikes instead of swinging for the fences; a justice whose foremost allegiance is to the American people and to the Constitution.
Too much is at stake to allow politics to corrupt the Supreme Court confirmation process. That’s why in the coming weeks, I will lift heaven and earth to see the president’s nominee across the finish line.