New revelations about the paper-thin look the FBI took into Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his 2018 confirmation fight is a potent reminder that even the nation's highest court is now infected with partisan politics.
Democrats reacted to the news -- which was not all that surprising given that we knew at the time that the FBI was not, in fact, conducting a full inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh -- with outrage.
"The admissions in your letter corroborate and explain numerous credible accounts by individuals and firms that they had contacted the FBI with information 'highly relevant to . . . allegations' of sexual misconduct by Justice Kavanaugh, only to be ignored," wrote seven Democratic senators in response to a letter from the FBI confirming that it received 4,500 tips on Kavanaugh.
"This long-delayed answer confirms how badly we were spun by Director Wray and the FBI in the Kavanaugh background investigation and hearing," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island in a tweet.
Again, while the news that the investigation of how the FBI handled Kavanaugh -- with kid gloves -- is not new, the details of just how many tips came in about him and how few were followed up in any meaningful way by the Trump administration will further poison the well when it comes how liberals view not just Kavanaugh, but the entire court.
The details of the investigation came on the same day that Mississippi's attorney general urged the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade via a challenge to the state's law that severely restricts when a woman can have an abortion. Attorney General Lynn Fitch called the Roe decision, which legalized abortion in America, "egregiously wrong."
That challenge was inevitable -- especially given that conservatives now enjoy a 6-3 edge on the court, following then-President Donald Trump's appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Trump had previously appointed Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch to the court.)
Add up the Kavanaugh news, Democrats' lingering frustration with Barrett's last-minute confirmation, the Mississippi abortion case and the real possibility of a Republican Senate majority come 2021 and you have a deeply volatile -- and political -- mixture.
And that's before you consider the fact that trust in the court -- as well as every high-profile institution in the country -- had dipped precipitously over the last few decades as more and more people have come to see it through a partisan lens.
In Gallup's annual trust in institutions survey -- released earlier this month -- just more than a third of Americans (36%) said they had a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the court, down from 4 in 10 who said the same in 2020. Remarkably, the lack of confidence in the Supreme Court is bipartisan; 39% of Democrats have "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the court while 35% of Republicans say the same.
That decline in confidence is the result of our ever-increasing polarization, yes. People now see the world solely through the lens of politics -- and that very much includes the Supreme Court.
But the erosion in confidence is also due to the fact that the Court has been the final arbiter on a serious of hot-button issues in recent years. The court allowed the flow of massive sums of hard-to-track dollars into politics with its Citizens United ruling. It legalized same-sex marriage. It upheld the Affordable Care Act -- repeatedly. It allowed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to stand. And most recently, it declined to hear an attempt to disqualify presidential ballots in a series of swing states.
"These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives," Trump said in a tweet following the gay marriage and DACA rulings, adding: "Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn't like me?"
All of this runs counter to the wishes of Chief Justice John Roberts who has repeatedly spoken about the need for the court to be above politics. His insistence during his confirmation that the job of a justice was to serve as an umpire, not a player, and to "call balls and strikes" feels utterly Pollyanna-ish in light of the past decade of the court and our culture.
The very fact that Kavanaugh sits on the court is proof enough to many liberals that even our judiciary branch has been given over to the political swirl. And nothing will convince them otherwise.
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