In many ways it was puzzling. The appointment of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court was certainly historic, but it was unlikely to disrupt the Court’s ideological tilt to the right. So, why were so many Senate Republicans out in force, insisting that there was no way they could support one of the most qualified judicial appointees in history in her bid to become the first Black woman to sit on the high court? Why were the confirmation hearings a smorgasbord of interruptions and theatrical grandstanding at Judge Jackson’s expense? If this appointment would not actually change the Court’s immediate trajectory, why then were Republicans falling all over themselves to thwart it? Why not just give the left the win—if only as a conciliatory gesture in our highly polarized political climate?
Perhaps they aren’t interested in conciliation? Perhaps they are so churlish that they felt compelled to strip so many Americans of the joy of this historic nomination by literally berating the nominee before a live national audience for two days running? Or maybe they just couldn’t help themselves? I mean, there were television cameras, a captive audience, and the prospect of tantalizing soundbites for the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election cycle.
Or maybe it has nothing to do with politics? Maybe it’s because the real fear is not the immediate impact of Justice Jackson, but rather a fear of the long game she might represent. To understand this fear, one need look no further than Justice Clarence Thomas, whose career on the Court is a master class in playing a long game. Although he has reliably voted with the Court’s conservatives, for much of his career, Justice Thomas has championed more extreme positions, writing lone concurrences and dissents urging the conservative majority to go even further on key issues.