The national fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court set a timely stage for this semester’s Janus Forum.
The event brought Supreme Court lawyer and self-described “extreme centrist” Neal Katyal and former Republican strategist Ana Navarro to Miami University’s campus for political debate and discussion.
The recent battle over a seat on the highest court in the United States highlighted national divides around sexual assault, splitting the country on how much evidence is required for proving allegations and the appropriate timing for victims to come forward.
Those on the left criticized Kavanaugh’s temper, partisanship and public disrespect for a woman he knew in high school. Those on the right argued he was “innocent until proven guilty,” and a last-minute FBI investigation failed to allay concerns about the integrity of the nominee.
Katyal and Navarro met in Wilks Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 21 to debate this semester’s topic, “On the Docket: The Supreme Court and the Future of American Democracy.”
Considering the speakers’ proximity to one another on the political spectrum, the two had little to debate.
Navarro even asked the audience, “Did you come here for a debate? Because if you did, we’re about to dance a waltz.”
“Sometimes debate is what we need,” forum moderator Emily Tatum, a senior political science and international studies double major, said. “But other times, it’s nice to have a discussion where there’s a lot of agreement. It all depends where the speakers take it.”
Navarro attributed the lack of debate to similarities she and Katyal have in their view of the court.
“If we’d talked politics, it might’ve been very different,” she said in an interview with The Miami Student after the event. “We both have a deep respect for the institution of the court. There’s an appreciation for the significance, the history of it in our democracy.”
The speakers agreed the contentiousness and partisanship of the confirmation process itself was highlighted during the Kavanaugh process.
“It’s ridiculous,” Navarro said. “Elections do have consequences. One of those consequences is that the president gets to pick a Supreme Court of his ideology. What should not be up to any president is moral fitness, judicial independence and judicial temperament. Jerks should not be allowed to sit on the Supreme Court.”
Katyal echoed his understanding of the public’s stake in the appointment to the court.
“[The Supreme Court is] acting much more like a super legislature,” Katyal said. “It’s not surprising that you’re going to get these contentious confirmation hearings because the Supreme Court itself is deciding a lit of these contentious issues, and perhaps deciding them in what looks like a political way instead of a legal way.”
The speakers also spent time discussing the politics of Judge Merrick Garland’s blocked appointment.
President Barack Obama nominated Garland to the Supreme Court after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016. Senate Republicans prevented any action from being taken on the nomination, arguing the president elected in 2016 should make the appointment. The seat remained empty for over 400 days.
“One of the things that’s going to happen as a result of this is the base is going to pressure the party to nominate someone who is a true believer,” Katyal said. “Merrick Garland, turns out, didn’t get the progressive base out. The nomination, in that sense, became a failure for the Obama administration.”
“It’s also a failure of the Congress,” Navarro said. “ There’s something meaningful and particularly high-profile about a Supreme Court nominee, and to have this guy hanging there without so much as a hearing was a really, I think, a shameful moment in Congress.”
The speakers agreed President Donald Trump’s judicial appointments will have a profound effect, going forward.
Since assuming office, Trump and the Republican-majority Senate have filled 60 vacancies across the federal district courts, the federal courts of appeals and the Supreme Court.
“It is astounding what he has done,” Katyal said. “No president in our lifetime has done anything like this – appointing people of this intelligence, capability and also deep ideological bent to the courts. It’ll be a legacy that lasts for your entire lifetimes.”
Moving forward, both Katyal and Navarro called for ensuring the court keeps its legitimacy, especially in wake of the public strife around it and the fear of overturning key decisions around issues like abortion and gay marriage.
“It is important that the American people feel some trust on the Supreme Court,” Navarro said.“I still think it’s going to be the most respected branch. Look at our other two options.”
“You ask ‘Is there a way to repair the legitimacy on the Supreme Court?’” Katyal said. “And I guess my answer is ‘There just has to be.’”