Ahlin: Who makes the rules?
A little boy I knew was playing at a friend’s house. Surprisingly, the friend’s mother had agreed the boys could jump on a bed in a spare room. When she checked on them, her son was jumping on the bed and the visiting boy was sitting on the floor. The mom asked if they were taking turns, and her son said they were.
The little boy on the floor looked perplexed and asked, “How do I know if it’s my turn when he keeps changing the rules?”
The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee must feel like that little boy, because the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings are nothing short of a sham with ever-changing rules. Supposedly the more deliberative body of Congress, the U.S. Senate—and particularly the Senate Judiciary Committee—is an undemocratic caricature of itself in the hands of the Republican majority bent on shoving through a Supreme Court nominee before the midterm elections. (Chop,chop.)
Certainly political tit-for-tat obstructionism of federally-appointed judgeships has gone on for years, but the practice took a dark and democracy-threatening turn when the Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat that rightfully should have been filled by President Obama. Since then for Republicans making up rules is the rule.
For instance, accepted Senate process is that the National Archives vets public documents related to the Supreme Court nominee. In this case, the documents concern Kavanaugh’s time as a partisan working for George W. Bush and his time working for independent counsel Ken Starr in the Clinton investigation. The National Archives let the Senate Judiciary Committee know that it would take them until the end of October to do their work.
The Republican reply? Change the rules. Deny access to over 90 percent of the documents and have an old Kavanaugh associate choose the documents the committee can see. (National Archives staff found the avoidance of their role so out of line, they made a public statement that what was or wasn’t released had nothing to do with them.) Then, Republicans dumped 42,000 documents the night before the hearings making it impossible for the Democrats to do anything but sputter. Then, the Trump White House put 102,000 documents off limits per executive privilege. (Never done before except by Ronald Reagan, who retracted his decision after a bipartisan request he do so. His nominee William Rehnquist was still confirmed, 65-33.)
To today’s Republicans that bipartisan 1980s bunch were schmucks, because Republicans are “Trumpsters” now. No rules, no norms, no protocols, and no collegiality are necessary when what you do is based on what you can get away with. Just keep changing the rules.
Most North Dakotans like most Americans have an inherent sense of fairness and know changing—really abandoning—long-agreed-upon rules is corrupt use of power. Republicans likely get an extreme right-wing Supreme Court. But they’ve abased themselves and their party. They're on the floor; Trump is the only one jumping on the bed.
Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum. Email firstname.lastname@example.org