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Saturday, 6 October 2018

Susan Collins's Kavanaugh speech diagnoses America's deepening division




On the ceiling of the Capitol Rotunda, 180 feet above the floor, there is a painting of George Washington with a banner above his head that reads “E Pluribus Unum,” which is Latin for “out of many, one.”
But as Friday’s theatrics in the U.S. Senate demonstrated, the motto symbolizing the ideal of a unified country that draws people with disparate views together from disparate places is not our current reality.
In fact, that was a central conclusion drawn in a speech delivered by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, as she explained why she would cast a decisive vote in favor of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
“We live in a time of such great disunity,” Collins said. “It is a case of people bearing extreme ill will toward those who disagree with them.”
“The drafters of our Constitution … were acutely aware that different values and interests could prevent Americans from becoming and remaining a single people,” she said. “Their vision of ‘a more perfect Union’ does not exist today, and if anything, we appear to be moving farther away from it.”
Collins was interrupted by protesters as she began her remarks, and Capitol Police cleared the fourth floor of the Dirksen Office Building, where Collins’s office is located, after she finished speaking, to prevent protesters from storming into it.
On Twitter, Collins’s decision to support Kavanaugh was met with rage.
“Never let Collins have a moment of peace in public again,” said Kat Calvin, a lawyer and founder of Spread the Vote, a group that promotes expanding voting access.
Calvin was then targeted with vague threats from those who disagreed with her. “We know where you live,” one anonymous account wrote back.
When Collins posted the full text of her speech to the site, it was met with profanity and insults.
Such is the state of discourse on social media, and such is the state of our politics.


Supreme Court police officers detain a group of demonstrators opposed to Brett Kavanaugh outside the court on Oct. 5, 2018. (Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Within moments of the conclusion of Collins’s 45-minute speech, a former top aide to former President Barack Obama, Jen Psaki, joined the fray on Twitter, seeking candidates who might be able to mount a challenge to Collins for her Senate seat in 2020.
“Who wants to run for Senate in Maine? there will be an army of supporters with you,” Psaki tweeted.
Maine resident Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations, responded to Psaki with one word: “Me.”
In her speech, Collins explained in detail why she had come to support Kavanaugh.
The Maine Republican said that while she found the woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault at a high school party in 1982, Christine Blasey Ford, to be “sincere” and “compelling,” she did not feel Ford’s testimony rose above the threshold of being “more likely than not.”
Collins also issued a scathing rebuke to the unknown “leaker” who gave Ford’s letter first detailing her accusation to the press, despite Ford’s wish to remain anonymous. “To that leaker, who I hope is listening now, let me say that what you did was unconscionable. You have taken a survivor who was not only entitled to your respect, but who also trusted you to protect her — and you have sacrificed her well-being in a misguided attempt to win whatever political crusade you think you are fighting,” Collins said, her voice rising.
“My only hope is that your callous act has turned this process into such a dysfunctional circus that it will cause the Senate — and indeed all Americans — to reconsider how we evaluate Supreme Court nominees,” Collins said.
More than 20 Republican senators sat in the chamber listening with rapt attention. Only three Democrats sat on the other side. Nearly two dozen Democratic staff members, however, watched from benches in the back corner and at times were not able to conceal their discontent with Collins’s decision.


Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks outside a secure underground room in the Capitol where senators were briefed on the FBI background file on sexual allegations made against Kavanaugh, on Oct. 3, 2018. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

When Collins finished, most Republican senators came by her desk to shake her hand or give her a hug.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has emerged during this process as a hero to the right after being regarded for years as an establishment sellout, called Collins’s speech one of the finest in his memory. He also once again blasted away at Kavanaugh’s accusers and the Democrats who sought to promote them.
“This is as close to McCarthyism as I hope we get in my lifetime,” Graham said.
Graham’s anger, which boiled over during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Ford and Kavanaugh, was based on a feeling that while Ford’s accusation was credible and deserved a hearing, there were other accusations that followed Ford’s that were far more flimsy and ultimately veered into baseless slander.
Collins, in her speech, echoed that view. She called allegations of Kavanaugh’s involvement with “gang rape” during his high school days “outlandish” and said this rumor — injected into the public conversation by an attention-seeking attorney who has spoken of running for president — was “a stark reminder about why the presumption of innocence is so ingrained in our American consciousness.”
Collins said she hoped that the Kavanaugh fight would be the “rock bottom” of the judicial confirmation process, after “a steady decline for more than thirty years.”
But there is no reason to believe it will be.
“We are on a dangerous road, and the judicial confirmation wars are going to get a lot worse for our traveling down it,” wrote Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare, in a column for the Atlantic arguing that Kavanaugh should not be confirmed because the preponderance of the evidence, in his mind, “leans toward Ford.”
The story of how we got to this contentious and ugly place has many chapters to it. The most recent was written only 18 months ago when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did away with the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in response to a decision by Democrats to refuse to allow a vote. At the time, Democrats were retaliating for McConnell’s refusal to give Obama’s choice in 2016 for the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland, a vote. And in 2016 McConnell had his own justification for blocking Garland, based on what he saw as Democratic sins of the past.
The tit-for-tat has gone on for decades, escalating over the past 15 years or so.
The losers of this fight are not Democrats or Republicans but the American people, especially minorities and those without power, for whom an independent and trusted judiciary is a crucial bulwark against abuses.
As Collins said in her speech, “It is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.” The law is supposed to be a central protection against unfairness. But the Supreme Court may now be truly broken in that it is viewed as a political institution rather than a body where outcomes are decided by an agreed-upon set of rules.
“There’s no time for nuance; there is only time for war,” wrote Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report. “So, war it will be for the foreseeable future.”

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