When you look at our U.S. Constitution, our Founders’ message is clear: “We the People.” Those words are deliberately written larger than everything else — large enough that you can read them from across the room.
And at the core of the “We the People” vision is a strong, independent judiciary.
As I look at the U.S. Supreme Court now, I see a stolen seat filled by a nominee who was approved by the Senate after an unprecedented political power grab by the majority party. I see an upcoming nominee who would act as President Trump’s get-out-of-jail-free card, who says that presidents should not be subject to America’s laws. I see a political yes-man for the privileged and powerful, not a free and fair stalwart ensuring we remain a nation “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
A woman at a recent town hall in Eastern Oregon asked me if this nomination makes me fear for our democracy. My answer is yes, yes it does.
First, the president is being investigated for possible collusion with a foreign power. As such, it is a massive conflict of interest for him to nominate a justice who could end up being the deciding vote in rulings on whether he can end the investigation into his campaign, or even whether he can pardon himself.
Second, Brett Kavanaugh has extreme views that are fit for a king in a kingdom, not for a president in a republic. Kavanaugh says that a president should not have to enforce laws he claims are unconstitutional, even if they’ve been upheld by the courts. He has argued that sitting presidents should be immune from prosecution; immune from indictment; and immune from investigation. He even argues that a president should have the sole power to appoint and fire special prosecutors at will. With this nomination, President Trump is striving to print his own get-out-of-jail-free card.
Third, Senate Republicans are working overtime to block access to Kavanaugh’s full record of service in George W. Bush’s White House. What are they trying to hide? When President Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Republicans insisted that reviewing her full record as a White House staffer was essential for the Senate to fulfill its advice and consent responsibility. Democrats fully cooperated with their request. But now, Republican senators are abandoning the standard of transparency they insisted on for Kagan, covering up the records from when Kavanaugh served in the White House. This is unacceptable. If Republicans are so afraid of the secrets they’re working to hide, the president should withdraw the nomination.
Even without the White House records, we already know that Kavanaugh has extreme views. He has argued in favor of bosses overriding women’s access to birth control. He has signaled that he wants to roll back women’s constitutional rights, including access to safe, legal abortion. He dissented from the D.C. Circuit Court opinion supporting the power of the Affordable Care Act to provide coverage for Americans with preexisting conditions. His record to date is anti-worker, anti-consumer, and anti-equality.
In summary, Kavanaugh’s view is that the Constitution is all about “by and for the powerful,” not “by and for the people.”
The individual who fills Justice Kennedy’s vacancy on the Supreme Court will shape the laws of our country for a generation. That means we are in a fight for the soul of our democracy. Now is the time: We must be fierce in the fight, and to insist only on a nominee who believes in the “We the People” vision of our Constitution. Calls to my office are running against Kavanaugh’s nomination, and I urge all Oregonians to keep making their voices heard. And importantly, encourage friends and family across the nation to make their voices heard, as well. I know that together, we can build a more prosperous, powerful, and successful America.
Sen. Jeff Merkley of Myrtle Creek is a Democrat serving in the U.S. Senate since 2009.