The bludgeoning of Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, and the cozying up of the wife of ultraconservative Justice Clarence Thomas to the deranged world of Donald Trump continue to push Republicans to the right of the right and sabotage the independence of the courts in the process. Ideally, the Republicans would sink so low they’d bury themselves in it, but that’s a lot to expect from a political system whose rules happen to fuel the Republicans’ anti-democratic designs.
Seven months before the midterm elections in the United States, the war in Ukraine has more or less overshadowed their maneuvers. Yet one event is not fundamentally foreign to the other, so similar are Vladimir Putin’s illiberal enterprise and that of a Republican Party whose leadership recently decreed that the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol constituted “legitimate political discourse.”
Biden is making history by opening the doors of the Supreme Court to a Black female judge. And when in late February, he announced the nomination of Jackson, whose qualifications are unquestionable, he presented it as an elementary matter of soundly representing the forces in American society. Who could deny that? Of the 115 justices who have served on the Supreme Court since its inception, 107 have been white men, compared to two Black men and five women (four white and one Latina). Obviously, some white justices have been more progressive than others. In this case, Jackson’s nomination is all the more significant because the Supreme Court today is saddled with a majority of six conservative justices, largely bound to a literal reading of the Constitution and much more to the right of the average American on a number of issues, starting with the right to abortion.
Biden also has things to apologize for. As columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, this nomination is perhaps a way for him to atone for his failure as chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 on charges of sexual harassment brought against Clarence Thomas by Anita Hill, who served as his adviser at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hill, by then a law professor, was dragged through the mud during the hearings. At their conclusion, the ultraconservative Thomas, a Black man shrewdly nominated by George H.W. Bush, was confirmed by a Democrat-led Senate, albeit with a slim majority, despite the evidence that his professional qualifications were clearly lacking.
As regressive mindsets die hard, the Republican inquisition against Judge Jackson by several committee members two weeks ago in the Judiciary Committee was therefore laced with racism and sexism.
But at heart, these obtuse Republican ideologues are primarily attacking her open-mindedness and her constructive reading of the law. Inquisition is not too strong a word; they sought above all to portray her as a dirty leftist, lacking in religious faith, soft on crime and pornographic pedophilia, and a follower of “critical race theory,” the new Republican bogeyman. These were issues, in short, that had little to do with her judicial thinking and qualifications.
Coupled with the recent revelations concerning Virginia Thomas, this inquisition shows the length to which these Trumpist mercenaries are ready to go in their unabashed effort to corrupt the rule of law.
Virginia Thomas, the spouse of Clarence Thomas, is unequivocally conservative and a pro-Trump activist whose frantic calls to cancel the “fraudulent” 2020 presidential election are contained in a series of text messages she sent to the White House, texts that were recently uncovered by the press in the United States. These calls immediately raise the question: What did her husband know? Asking the question is not far removed from answering it, given the couple’s shared beliefs. In any case, the mere appearance of a conflict of interest and infringement of the independence of the judiciary are glaring. Such an appearance should have led Justice Thomas to recuse himself from the Supreme Court cases related to the Jan. 6 investigation, something he did not have the integrity to do.
It is unfortunate for the United States that Trump got the opportunity to nominate not one, not two, but three justices to the Supreme Court. Once part of the court’s minority, Clarence Thomas’ hard-line conservatism is anything but. And because of partisan politics, the Supreme Court has been discredited as never before by the American public. In the absence of reforms designed to depoliticize the institution (term limits, for one), the arrival of Jackson, whose nomination should be confirmed by the Senate before Easter, will not break the conservative yoke, but her dissent will certainly help restore some legitimacy to the court.