Requiem for the Supreme Court

Opinion-writer politesse would require me to say or imply that the decay in the courts standing was the fault of “both sides,” or of both “right and left.”

But I cannot. It simply is not true.

One party made the Supreme Court a partisan issue. First Richard Nixon then Ronald Reagan made attacks the Court part of Republican Party dogma. Some will see the rejection of Judge Robert Bork by the Democratic controlled Senate in 1987 as a product of partisanship; others may see it as one of its causes. But I think no fair-minded person could deny that a major barrier was crossed in 1991, when a Republican president for political reasons appointed a justice who was manifestly unqualified for the office, and who faced numerous, credible claims of sexual misbehavior as a government official. It was hard to watch the nominee testify in October 1991 without concluding that Anita Hill had told the truth and that Thomas had lied. But the administration pushed ahead regardless. This was the first major step over a dangerous threshold.

The next step came in 2000, when five Republican appointees on the court extended the Court’s authority to decide a national election, in defiance of both federal statutes, the Constitution’s text, and their own frequently expressed pieties about “our federalism.” The court has aggressively made itself part of partisan politics; but even then, some of the justices who dissented were Republican appointees.