“We’ve heard very little about the nominee who is here and whose confirmation we’re hearing,” our detective added.
A curious incident, indeed — but why? The answer is elementary.
Democrats weren’t talking about Barrett because this confirmation isn’t about Barrett; Republicans have already declared they have the votes to ram her through, without hearings if necessary. The confirmation, rather, is to be a decisive vote about the future of the Supreme Court, and whether that august body will shed its last vestige of legitimacy and credibility.
Confidence in the Supreme Court has fallen dramatically since Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation. Fifty-six percent of Americans had high confidence in the high court back in 1985, according to Gallup. That figure has averaged in the high 30s lately. Views are overwhelmingly partisan: Fifty-three percent of Republicans have confidence, compared with 33 percent of Democrats.
And that was before President Trump proposed, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg lay in state, to replace the liberal icon with her jurisprudential opposite, forming the most right-wing court in 70 years. On top of this is the rank hypocrisy of Republicans breaking their promises not to hold confirmation hearings so close to an election; their haste to do so even as they resist passing covid-19 relief; and the naked political maneuver of making sure Barrett, openly hostile to Obamacare, is seated on the court before it hears arguments on the law on Nov. 10.
This is why Republicans would rather pretend it’s a fight about Barrett’s character and credentials.
Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) walked to the microphones during a recess Monday, whipped off his mask and announced: “Judge Barrett has been called so far a racist, a colonialist, a religious bigot.”
"Who said that?” a reporter asked. (Nobody had.)
“I’m not going to argue with you guys,” Kennedy replied, adding that “some of my colleagues” suggest “because she’s a Christian, she’s unfit to serve in public service.”
Reporters tried again: “Seriously, can you name one of your colleagues who has attacked Judge Barrett?”
“I don’t want to go there,” Kennedy said, finally admitting he was referring to three-year-old remarks.
But Republicans tried mightily to stuff that straw man. “The pattern and practice of bigotry from members of this committee must stop,” warned Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), with no such pattern or practice in evidence.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), for his part, accused his “Democratic colleagues” of saying “they intend to pack the court with more justices.” No Democrat said anything about court-packing Monday.
And several Republicans used their opening statements to accuse Democrats of an “absolute disgrace” (Cornyn), a “freak show” (Kennedy) and a “crusade to tarnish a nominee” (Chuck Grassley, Iowa). Barrett? No, they were all talking about Brett M. Kavanaugh — two years ago.
The Republicans conjured these fantasies, no doubt, because the reality of this confirmation is indefensible. Republicans shut down the Senate floor because of a covid-19 outbreak that apparently began at Barrett’s nomination ceremony at the White House. But they are still pushing through, mere days before an election that Trump appears likely to lose, a nominee who Trump hopes, by his own account, will help him delegitimize the election result.
Usually, the opening hearing for a Supreme Court nominee is a moment for pomp and ceremony. This one was bush-league (technical difficulties made senators skip the formal introduction of Barrett) and reckless. (Chairman Lindsey Graham refused to require testing, and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, recently diagnosed with covid-19, at one point wore a mask over his mouth but not his nose.)
But a cheap imitation of the real thing is exactly what this confirmation deserves. It has nothing to do with the nominee’s fitness and everything to do with the fitness of a president and his allies as they deal a mortal blow to the court’s integrity.
“Yes, judge, I think this hearing is a sham,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said. “We don’t have some clever procedural way to stop this sham, to stop them from rushing through a nominee. But we have a secret weapon that they don’t have — we have Americans who are watching. … They know what this president and the Republican Party are doing right now is very wrong.”
Or, as Sherlock Holmes put it: The game is afoot.