In Spring 2016, when a vacancy opened up in the Supreme Court after the death of Antonin Scalia, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to prevent then–President Obama from nominating a replacement during the last year of his presidency. He claimed, “The over- whelming view of the Republican Conference in the Senate is that this nomination should not be filled, this vacancy should not be filled by this lame duck president” (NPR, “Senate Re- publicans Agree To Block Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee,” 02.23.2016). It was a controversial decision; there was no precedent in modern history for the legislative branch to decline to consider a sitting president’s Supreme Court nominee, and certainly no Senate leader had ever suggested that this was their right (Politico, “McConnell throws down the gauntlet: No Scalia replacement under Obama,” 02.13.2016). Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the decision “outrageous.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) argued that leaving a Supreme Court seat vacant for an en- tire year would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most important Constitutional responsibilities (Politico). A nationwide poll by Monmouth University found that only 16 percent of respondents agreed with the Senate Republicans’ choice to not even consider the nominee, while 77 percent said that Senate Re- publicans were just playing politics (U.S. News & World Report, “Even GOP Voters Think Senate Should Confirm SCOTUS Nominee,” 03.21.2016). However, none of that mattered to Senate Republicans, who declined to give nominee Merrick Garland a proper hearing for 293 days until his nomination expired on Jan. 3, 2017 (The Wall Street Journal, “President Obama’s Supreme Court Nomination of Merrick Garland Expires,” 01.03.2017).
Two years later, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in June and both McConnell and President Trump made it clear that they planned on nominating a replacement immediately, just four months before the anticipated November midterm elections. Democrats highlighted the hypocrisy of the sudden policy shift. Senate Republicans’ response was that midterm elections are not the same as presidential elections. “That was a presidential election year, so it was very, very different,” said Senator James Lankford (R-OK) (Vox, “Republicans are fine confirming a Supreme Court justice in a midterm year because ‘it’s different,’” 06.28.2018).
As a result, the Senate committee is on the road to confirming Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative-leaning judge who argued in 2009 that a sitting president should not be subjected to criminal investigation or trial (PBS Newshour, “What you should know about Brett Kavanaugh’s life and record,” 09.03.2018). In addition, Senate Democrats have criticized President Trump for withholding 100,000 pages of records on Judge Kavanaugh from both the senators and the public and demanded that he must release them so that the American people can evaluate Kavanaugh’s nomination properly (The Boston Herald, “Senators demand release of Brett Kavanaugh’s records,” 09.04.2018).
Moreover, regardless of Kavanaugh’s statements regarding presidential powers, he has shown himself to be markedly partisan and conservative. As a lawyer and judge, he has con- sistently stood against abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act, and favored policies that would hinder efforts to combat climate change. Through his rulings, he has revealed his support of issues such as gun rights, habeas corpus laws mandating that certain individuals can be law- fully detained if they appear to be a “national security threat” and immigration restrictions.
Here at Vassar, it is key to point out that Kavanaugh’s values gravely contradict with the goals of social justice, equality and women’s empowerment around which the College has historically based its mission. Kavanaugh’s position on Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision legalizing abortion, is particularly concerning. In a 2003 email, Kavanaugh stated, “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so” (Time, “Kavanaugh Said He Was ‘Not Sure’ Roe V. Wade Was Settled Law in 2003 Email,” 09.06.18). This blatant disregard for legal prec- edent is not only alarming, but also revealing of his anti-abortion leanings.
Some Vassar students have already begun to take action toward healing on the local and national levels. Community Fellows, for example, are assigned a full-time job with area not-for- profit agencies, including the Mediation Center of Dutchess County and the REAL Skills Net- work, where Fellows provide services to Poughkeepsie residents (Vassar Stories, “Making a difference all summer – and beyond,” 08.14.2018).
Some Vassar orgs work with Planned Parent- hood, including CHOICE, the Women’s Center and Vassar Voices for Planned Parenthood. Others have broader missions; for example, Democracy Matters arranges activities such as lobbying officials or holding workshops to increase engagement among students.
Such examples prove that political involvement is at our fingertips. Join one of the afore- mentioned orgs—or one with a like-minded mission statement—or start your own. Research your senator’s stance on the issues, determine whether their views align with your own and contact them either way. Even if one call seems insubstantial, it does have a discernible impact.
Finally, vote. Despite millennials’ increasing political power, they have the lowest voter turn- out of all age groups, with only 46 percent voting in the last presidential election (NPR, “Millennials Now Rival Boomers as a Political Force, but Will They Actually Vote?” 05.16.2016). To influence elections, young voters must get to the polls. Here at Vassar, Democracy Matters can help you register, and on election day they provide shuttles to the voting center.
Before casting your ballot, educate yourself on who and what you want to support. It is imperative that we as a nation express our voices, and not stand idly by as we watch our representatives decide on a nominee who could help determine legal policy in very tangible ways for generations.
—The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least 2/3 of The Miscellany News Editorial Board.