With the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court of the United States is now a wholly realized threat not just to social and economic progress, but to equal justice under the law. Kavanaugh himself promised that would be the case at the conclusion of the confirmation charade orchestrated by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley. The nominee raged against “the left” and imagined that senators who had concerns about allegations of sexual abuse, his lies under oath, and his judicial record were part of “a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.” Now that Kavanaugh has been seated, how can any of us forget the menacing message in his testimony: “What goes around comes around”?
These are more than the idle words of an out-of-control partisan. Because Kavanaugh could occupy the Court into the 2050s, they represent a chilling threat that must be addressed. If Democrats take charge of the House Judiciary Committee in November, they have a duty to examine testimony that former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens said rendered Kavanaugh unfit to serve on the high court, along with credible complaints about abuse and evidence that the new justice perjured himself under oath.
It is important for progressives to hold Kavanaugh to account, but that cannot be the end of it. There is a much broader need to come to grips with the challenges posed by a fully corrupted confirmation process and a fully compromised Court. The first response must be a clear-eyed and pragmatic focus on the midterm elections, which are now just weeks away. It is easy—and appropriate—to be angry with Senator Susan Collins, the faux moderate who has never voted against a Republican nominee for the Court. Unlike the sole dissenting Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski, who described Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony as “very credible” and took seriously the message of Alaskans who said that Kavanaugh should not be confirmed, Collins provided essential cover for McConnell’s machinations in a shameful floor speech praising the nominee.
Yet Collins is not on the ballot this year. Other Republican senators who aggressively defended Kavanaugh are up for reelection, and several of them—particularly Dean Heller in Nevada and Ted Cruz in Texas—are vulnerable. The focus should be on those races, and on the reelection runs of red-state Democrats who, unlike West Virginia’s calculating Joe Manchin, cast votes of conscience against Trump’s nominee. When the critical test came, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly did the right thing. If they are reelected in November, the signal will be that standing strong against the president’s bully-boy politics is morally necessary and politically smart. Wins by Democrats in these races have the potential to flip the Senate and put the people who opposed Kavanaugh in charge of the confirmation process going forward. That would be sweet justice.