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A Sign of Incompetence: The Confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch

On April 7, 2017, after extensive delay, the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court Justice. Nominated by the current president after "stealing" the chair from the previous president's nominee, Merrick Garland, Gorsuch received this position after a tense few months that resulted in a radical decision by the Senate. This is how to went down:

After the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, then-President Obama selected a judge to fill the vacancy. Senate Republicans blocked the nomination for a historically long period of time, until President Trump was elected and subsequently nominated Gorsuch, a candidate more favorable to Republicans. This outraged Democrats, who then declared they would filibuster Gorsuch's confirmation. The Republican-dominated Senate responded by shutting down the filibuster and voting to end the 60 vote majority measure for the approval of Supreme Court Justices. In essence, Republicans dismissed the need for bipartisan agreement and, while bringing an end to one of the greatest examples of inefficiency in federal administration, reinforced party politics rather than cooperative action as the norm of American government.

These events are a reminder of how arbitrary governing can be. Increasingly, the government drifts not towards a fixed body of procedural action, but rather a continual struggle for party power. While changing the rules of the Senate in favor of the agenda of the majority party might seem like the only way to get things done in so split a political atmosphere, what guarantees a basic respect for other tenets of government? The 60 vote majority measure existed as a check on the extent of the Senate's influence over the Supreme Court. Discarding the measure was intended to strengthen the Republican party, not the government as a whole. This particular overstep of power, besides making it easier for further oversteps in the future, also changes the nature of the Supreme Court by compromising its supposedly apolitical nature.

Both Democrats and Republicans stand guilty of blatantly attempting to extend the power of their party to the Judicial Branch. The importance of preserving the party-unaffiliated basis of the court lies in its most central function: making informed and unbiased decisions that shape the future of this country. Any court whose primary concern is the furthering of a party agenda is, quite simply, corrupt. In all the debate about which president should choose a Justice, we seem to have forgotten that the success of the decision doesn't lie in the confirmation of a judge who will embody the most extreme ideals of either party but one who will be able to fulfill the most fundamental principles of the job.

Historically—though with some exceptions—the Judicial Branch has moved steadily in the direction of progress, cautiously responsive to but certainly not dominated by the progressive ideas of its time. Both parties should recognize the value in avoiding the placement of blindly opinionated politicians in the Court. Clearly we have enough of those in other branches of government.

Some may applaud the decisive action of the Republicans that finally filled the open seat. But having to change the rules of the Senate as a result of its own incompetence isn't a sign of innovation or productivity, but rather one of ineffectiveness. Unable to operate within a decades-old procedure, our contemporary lawmakers had to create their own procedure tailored to their unique incapability to cooperate. This is not something to be proud of.

Of course, Republicans are not the only ones guilty of breaking the rules. In 2013, Democrats set the precedent for breaking the 60 vote majority rule when they failed to secure the votes needed to approve some of Obama's nominations for executive branch and federal judicial positions. It is blatant hypocrisy for them to be outraged that Republicans would do the same just a few years later, and it certainly speaks to the shortsightedness of establishing such a dangerous precedent for the immediate benefit of one's party. In what seems like a race to the bottom, both parties engage in dubious behavior to try to get ahead, effectively ignoring the fact that Democrats and Republicans don't have to be adversaries and neither can, or should, be entirely effective without the other's support.

This particular decision by the Senate reflects a broader trend of incompetence. From the outside, the government's divided and self-destructive way of running makes the United States look petty and weak to other countries. The decision to overrule the 60 vote majority may be hailed as "groundbreaking," but it's a symptom of our country's breaking.

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