Time To Be Alarmed

Today is the second day of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings. So far everything is proceeding as expected. The Republican senate majority has stonewalled the release of thousands of pages of information on Kavanaugh’s past writings and statements. And the Democratic senate minority has vociferously pointed out that they’ve only received about 2% of the documents they seek. The Dems have also pointed out that keeping so much information away from the public gives the impression there is something about Judge Kavanaugh that Republicans feel should stay hidden. This is not behavior that should be acceptable in a healthy democracy.

But so what? It’s acceptable to Committee Chair Grassley and his fellow Republicans. Their Democratic colleagues’ complaints are viewed as inconsequential, their reasonable grievances summed up as simply a dislike for Kavanaugh’s admission that he’s been a lifelong Republican. It’s frustrating to see. But after years of watching Senate majority leader McConnell skillfully obstruct virtually every attempt by Democrats to make our country a better place to live for every American, frustration is something we’re used to.

However today, watching this latest Senate drama I realized that I am no longer just frustrated. I am honestly alarmed. It looks very likely that Judge Brett Kavanaugh will be the addition of one more Federalist Society conservative on the Supreme Court. The Republican controlled Senate will have taken America a giant step closer to becoming the dream nation that the Federalist Society has yearned for since its founding in 1982.

In case you haven’t read past NTD News essays describing the Federalist Society – an organization that Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Gorsuch and Judge Kavanaugh revere (as did Justice Scalia) – here’s how the Society describes itself on its home page:

“The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order. We are committed to the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.”

Now, if you read that description with liberal eyes like mine you notice several words and phrases that make it pretty clear what the Federalist Society’s idea of an ideal America would be. They are for “reforming the current legal order,” words written more than 35 years ago. I deduce they weren’t happy with the way the courts ruled in that era and still aren’t. In the decades preceding ’82, the Supreme Court really shook things up. Two examples: “separate but equal” segregated schools were banned and a woman’s right to choose whether or not to end a pregnancy was upheld.

I’m not saying The Federalist Society is for segregated schools or against abortion. They, and apparently Judge Kavanaugh, are just generally against any court rulings that interpret the U.S. Constitution to include rights not specifically in the founding fathers’ texts. These rulings, in effect, “create” new laws to be followed. The Society believes that such a task should always fall to the legislative branch of our government. — And I say, “good luck with that” when the U.S. Senate is controlled by Republican Senators representing 40 million fewer Americans than the Democrats and the concept of compromise is off the table.

Another Federalist Society phrase, “the state exists to preserve freedom,” also has a familiar ring. If you visit the websites of The Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, The Cato Institute or The John Birch Society, you don’t need to search far to find the words “free,” “freedom” and “free enterprise.” All of these conservative groups are big on being free.

The thing is, the idea of freedom is open to the interpretation of the person or group claiming they support it. For instance, the freedom of a corporation to be free of government intrusion into their safety practices is different from the freedom of a worker to feel free from worrying about his safety.

All of these groups, including Judge Kavanaugh’s beloved Federalist Society, have been greatly, if not completely, aided financially by wealthy supporters with a stake in getting government “off their backs.” People like the Koch Brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife, and Joe Coors.

For years such wealthy conservatives have chafed at federal rules attempting to limit what they can do to get richer. And as they’ve helped construct influential organizations and think tanks championing a right wing approach to all government, they’ve also been chipping away at the humanistic American society that progressives have been building in fits and starts since before the American Civil War.

What alarmed me today watching the Kavanaugh hearing is how much closer the Republicans now are to holding all the cards. This is what gives the election in November an importance that is historic. If we Democrats can win back control of the House of Representatives (and then stay smart enough to hold it) we can keep a progressive trajectory for our country alive. If we can’t, the chances that our United States might soon become a corporatist oligarchy will be more likely than ever.

Mid term elections have notoriously low voter turnout. But this year’s primary elections across the U.S. showed signs of a much more engaged electorate. That engagement must continue and be greatly increased in the weeks between now and November 6. Many candidates and political organizations, including the New Trier Dems, will be offering you opportunities to help make this happen. I hope you plan to join in.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973