Imagine you’re watching a playoff game featuring your favorite sports team against a bitter rival. Towards the beginning of the game, the referee or umpire makes a bad call that goes in your team’s favor. All of the replays show the same definitive proof that your team got a fortunate call. This doesn’t just happen once. This happens over and over. Your team eventually wins, but it’s clear that it is only because the official made bad calls that benefited your team. Are you excited that you at least won the game? Do you dread going to work and listening to the fan of the other team tell you how the refs handed you the game? What if later it was uncovered that the official actually rigged the game so that your team would win? There’s no honor in winning a game where the rules have been bent in your favor. When the rules are deteriorated, the game and sportsmanship lose meaning.
This is the problem with Judge Neil Gorsuch’s appointment. Last week, the Senate voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch as the newest associate member of the Supreme Court. If you’re a Conservative, you are probably thrilled not only with Gorsuch’s nomination but also his appointment. By all appearances, he seems to take a strict constructionist approach to the Constitution. Even if you lean liberal and disagree with his judiciary approach, you have to admit that Judge Gorsuch is a well-qualified even-mannered, and appropriate appointee. Judge Gorsuch is not the problem. The problem is how the Senate made this decision.
While the Senate’s rules have stipulated that Supreme Court justices need a supermajority (60 votes) for approval, Judge Gorsuch only had 54. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell then resorted to the “nuclear option,” and the Senate approved a rules change by a party line vote of 52-48 to change those rules so that Gorsuch only required a simple majority vote. Thus, Gorsuch received his appointment.
The supermajority vote requirement exists for two primary reasons. First, it exists to ensure that important decisions don’t get made because one party has a simple majority. Secondly, they force parties to work together and compromise in order to come up with the supermajority of votes that are needed. The bottom line is that a supermajority vote exists to further balance the powers in a whole governmental system meant at balancing powers.
What the Senate did may have been well within the rights; however, it demonstrates the further deterioration of the balance of powers in a two-party government that is becoming increasingly polarized. No one should be surprised at the Republican’s move to lower the threshold; this is something the Democrats did in 2013 to push in President Obama’s cabinet nominations – a move that Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer deeply regrets. “Wish it hadn’t happened,” the New York Democrat said in a January interview on CNN. Like the rigged sports game, this short-sighted type of governance may give one party immediate victory, but it spells defeat for the whole system.
Whenever I have traveled to third world countries or whenever I’ve talked to people that are working with a third world country for some reason (a visa, adoption, business, etc.), I’ve seen a similar thread: government officials will alter rules out of convenience. In most cases, that convenience is a bribe. In most cases, the official will make the decision not based on the best interest of his country, but based on his own personal gain.
I am not suggesting America is quite at that level systematically speaking, but with last week’s Senate decision, it is well on its way. The Constitution was designed to limit the power of government. When people say, “Government never gets anything done,” they are inadvertently confirming that the Constitution is working. The framers would argue that an expedient government never bodes well for the people. The stalemate that a supermajority requirement creates requires leaders to say, “I’ll compromise with you if you compromise with me.” What our polarized government has become is a showdown where our leaders threaten each other. “If you destroy that rule of order, I’ll destroy this one.” The Democrats lowered the threshold for cabinet appointees, Republicans ignored their Constitutional obligation to consider Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, Democrats tried to block President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, and then Republicans lowered the threshold for Supreme Court nominees. Welcome to the congressional arms race, where we use terms like “nuclear option.”
Thankfully, people still hold the power of elections. However, it seems like we’re rolling further down a path where once the elected official is in office, the party takes precedence over the people and the system. Executive orders, unilateral military action, changes in rules, gerrymandering – these are all examples where balance has been deteriorated to expedite a party’s or a person’s agenda. More than ever the United States government is at the whim of whatever party is in charge. That is far from civilized and balanced.
For conservatives who uphold a more strict interpretation of the Constitution and the framers’ intentions, this should be frightening. The fact that Republicans (the so-called Conservative Party) stooped to this level means our system has become a free-for-all. Yes, you may have gotten your coveted conservative Supreme Court appointment, but at what cost? In a country where independents outnumber party loyalists, we constantly see transfers of power. What do you think will happen when Democrats take back control of the Senate? What do you think will happen when America paints the White House and the Capitol blue again? Where is the honor in winning a game that is rigged in your favor, or where is the hope in playing a game that is rigged against you?