It was a bad weekend for the rule of law and democracy. The Chinese director of Interpol disappeared from Lyon and was later found to have been arrested in China. In Turkey, the possibility that Saudi Arabia murdered a critical journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul cannot be ruled out. A journalist was raped and murdered in Bulgaria, though it is not yet clear whether there is any connection between the attack and her work.
That is just a sample from a 48-hour news cycle. The events are not related to one another, but they do serve as a reminder of how vulnerable basic human rights and democratic norms are in many parts of the world.
In the past, American democracy has always stood in contrast to such democratic failings. It was far from perfect, and Americans had blown it up to mythical proportions, but it functioned nonetheless. However, American democracy has not done itself any favors with the swearing in of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice.
Model democracy has now degenerated into a conflict-based democracy in which opponents demonize one another, and compromise is virtually impossible, along with the potential for setting aside party lines for the sake of a greater purpose, such as appointing an eminent judge to the nation’s highest court.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation – which nearly all Republican senators supported and almost all Democrats opposed – is a victory for American conservatives and for President Donald Trump. The ratio of conservative to progressive judges is now 5-4.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation could mean that the U.S. will become even more conservative with respect to policies that protect the climate and restrict gun ownership. It could also mean that the legally guaranteed right to an abortion will be threatened. This is cause for concern among American progressives. However, it is also possible that Kavanaugh will choose a nonpartisan, less ideological path once he realizes that he is now independent.
The shifting political orientation of the Supreme Court – the ultimate arbiter of the American system – is not, in itself, damaging to democracy. Rather, it is the manner in which Kavanaugh was seated and his behavior during the public hearings that are unbefitting a mature democracy.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation was rushed through for partisan political purposes. The accusations of sexual misconduct were serious and compelling enough to warrant a proper investigation. The FBI was given five days but did not speak with key witnesses, including either Kavanaugh himself or Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexual misconduct. As a result, senators who were initially hesitant to support Kavanaugh could now hide behind a toothless FBI report.
Even worse than the posturing of the senators was Kavanaugh’s own behavior. His attitude demonstrated contempt for the confirmation process. Though he could have supported an investigation to prove his innocence, he took umbrage with it instead. In his eyes, the accusations by Ford and others were nothing more than a vendetta waged by the Democrats. His behavior – completely independent of the merits of the accusations themselves – is unbecoming of a Supreme Court justice. He was also aware of this: it was not for nothing that he quickly issued an apology. The Supreme Court has not only become more conservative, its reputation has also been damaged.