As the hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court generated a partisan circus — complete with protesters in Handmaid’s Tale garb — one man stood above the fray to deliver a splash of cold water to the face of Congress. That man was Ben Sasse.
Senator Sasse (R-Neb.) made one of the most impassioned statements of his career on Tuesday. In ten minutes, he held forth on what is wrong with the politicization of the Supreme Court nomination process.
The Washington Post‘s Amber Phillips broke Sasse’s speech down into four bullet points:
1. Congress is set up to be the most political branch. “This is supposed to be the institution dedicated to political fights,” Sasse said.
2.But in the name of politics, lawmakers have decided to keep their jobs rather than take tough votes. “Most people here want their jobs more than they really want to do legislative work, and so they punt their legislative work to the next branch,” Sasse said.
3. Because Congress often lets the executive branch write rules, and Americans aren’t sure who in the government bureaucracy to talk to, that leaves Americans with no other place than the courts to turn to express their frustration with policies. And the Supreme Court, with its nine visible members, is a convenient outlet. Sasse: “This transfer of power means people yearn for a place where politics can be done, and when we don’t do a lot of big political debate here, people transfer it to the Supreme Court. And that’s why the Supreme Court is increasingly a substitute political battleground for America.”
4. Sasse’s final point is one you can probably guess is coming by now: That this process needs to change. If Congress did more legislating, these Supreme Court nomination battles would get less political, he argues: “If we see lots and lots of protests in front of the Supreme Court, that’s a pretty good barometer of the fact that our republic isn’t healthy. They shouldn’t be protesting in front of the Supreme Court, they should be protesting in front of this body.”
Clearly, in the senator’s eyes, Congress isn’t doing what the public has elected them to do, and this failure of the body to do its job has led directly to the divided, heated hearings we see every time a potential Supreme Court justice is up for confirmation these days.
— Heritage Foundation (@Heritage) September 4, 2018
It was a passionate, powerful moment — one worthy of a Hollywood script. Naturally, pundits on both sides of the political divide are seeing it through their own lenses.
Over at National Review, David French points out that Sasse gave a much-needed civics lesson not just to those present at the hearing but also to anyone watching at home:
Multiple members of the House and Senate recognize this problem (Senator Sasse is obviously one of them), but they lack numbers. So until they have the legislative strength to restore the Founders’ vision, they must educate — and they must vote for judges who understand their proper, limited role in the constitutional structure. Today, Senator Sasse conducted the necessary educational session.
French believes that Sasse made a valid point, which he did, and that it was worth making at that moment. Sasse has long been an advocate of restoring our system to what the Founders intended it to be, and this statement goes hand in hand with what he has always believed.
Of course, the left views Sasse with abject cynicism. Witness Slate‘s Mark Joseph Stern, who drips with contempt at the GOP’s attempts to rein in the power of executive agencies, which Stern claims keep “mercury out of your air, discrimination out of your schools, and predatory lenders out of your wallet.”
While Sasse is not troubled by an imperial president who amasses an unprecedented amount of power in a single branch and wields it with spite and caprice, he is upset that executive branch agencies exist and do things. That is the thrust of the senator’s statement: The “administrative state,” an entrenched and unsanctioned “fourth branch of government,” allegedly rules “the people” while Congress withers on the vine.
What, exactly, is this sinister “administrative state”? In short, it comprises those agencies that the Trump administration is trying to defang or destroy.
Leave it to someone at Slate to side with unaccountable bureaucrats over an elected member of the legislature. I suppose Stern believes that we’ll all drop dead of poisoning, go back to segregated lunch counters, or get screwed when looking for a loan if Congress actually does its job instead of relying on an administrative bureaucracy.
When all is said and done, Ben Sasse gave Congress some priceless advice, but will our legislators apply it? It’s doubtful, but who knows?