Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the results have been predictable: Republican majority has backed their guy while the Democratic oppose him. The Democrats clear disagree with many of Kavanaugh’s values and are concerned that there might be evidence of serious problems hidden away in the documents they want to see. One of their key goals is to delay the hearings as long as possible, ideally until after the upcoming elections. Their hope is, obviously enough, that there will be a new Democratic majority in the Senate and they can start doing unto Trump as the Republicans did unto Obama. A second key goal is to put on political theatre in front of the cameras in the hopes of scoring political points for themselves and the party.
While Kavanaugh is presented as being even more conservative than some of the Republican senators, they have a general ideological agreement. Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans want the process to be rapid—they worry they might not have a majority after the next election and they are also worried about what might happen to Trump without Kavanaugh on the court.
As should come as no surprise, the Democrats are using some tactics the Republicans used when Obama was president and the Republicans are endeavoring to claim that these tactics are now illegitimate. Given what the Republicans did to Obama when he attempted to do his job and appoint a Supreme Court Judge, they have no real grounds for complaint against the Democrats. But, of course, it could be pointed out that to justify what the Democrats are doing now because of what the Republicans did would be a case of the Two Wrongs fallacy. After all, if something was wrong to do then, it would be wrong to do now. The Democrats do, however, have some obvious replies. One is that the Republicans thought it was right then, so by their own standards this sort of approach should be right now. Another is that while the behavior is bad in both cases, the Democrats would be fools to not use the same tactics. To use an analogy, if your opponent won a hand at a high stakes poker game by cheating and will keep trying to cheat, then playing fair when there is no authority to appeal to would be stupid.
My view, which is a matter of ethics rather than practical politics, is that the nomination process should have clear rules that are followed consistently regardless of which party holds the throne. This approach allows for fairness and the principled operation of government. I am, obviously enough, influenced here by Locke’s arguments as to why people should leave the state of nature—the advantages of having consistent rules. These rules should specify when appointments should take place, what sort of information must be provided to the senators and so on. However, politics is an unprincipled game where inconsistency is an effective tactic when trying to achieve a victory for one’s tribe or special interests. In the case of a Supreme Court nomination, the stakes are indeed high.
While the Democrats have loud protestors, they have yet to match the Republicans’ clever focus on winning the courts. While political offices matter, the often long terms of judgeships and their focusing power in one individual make them ideal targets for maintaining control over the laws. Even if the Democrats can make political gains in the upcoming election, they will still face the entranced activist judges dedicated to the conservative agenda. Naturally, Republicans would tend to see Democratic leaning judges as activists. This is because “activist judge” tends to simply mean “a judge I disagree with because they tend to decide in ways the other party likes.”
The battle to install Kavanaugh is especially critical for the Republicans. First, Trump needs a Supreme Court judge who is favorable to executive power and favors protecting the President. While many Republicans are not very happy with Trump, they have no more desire to lose power over principle than the Democrats did when Clinton was in trouble.
Second, Kavanaugh would provide a solid judicial defensive bulwark for pro-gun, pro-religion, pro-business, anti-worker, anti-regulation conservativism. Republicans know that demographics and values are shifting in a way that does not favor them. They have been making brilliant use of gerrymandering and voter suppression to win elections, but these will only work for so long. Unless the can shift the demographic tide and dial the country back towards white—something that is being attempted under Trump’s approach to immigration. Having Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court, where he can vote with the other four Republican judges against the Democrats, will enable them to potentially maintain a strong influence for decades even if they lose the demographic battle (which seems likely, wall or no wall).