Senate Hearing Room

It may be Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford who do the testifying, but, make no mistake, it is the U.S. Senate that will be on trial.

The process used by what is supposed to be America’s great deliberative body to weigh the nomination of Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court started as a farce.

It now has become a debacle.

And it has the potential to be a tragedy.

This debacle barreling toward tragedy has been a long time coming. It has an air of inevitability to it.

For nearly 200 years, members of the U.S. Senate did their best to insulate the nation’s highest court from the crassest partisan considerations. Members of the Senate stood up to each of the Roosevelts – Theodore and Franklin – when those energetic, even impulsive presidents were tempted to defy or pack the court.

The court was supposed to be as independent of temporal political considerations as was humanly possible.

That’s why the process for selecting justices that endured for nearly 200 years was designed to require at least some support from the party in the minority before someone was given a lifetime appointment to interpret our nation’s laws.

That’s changed.

For the past couple of generations, senators and presidents have conducted a slow but steady campaign to make the Supreme Court every bit as polarized and polarizing as the other two branches of government.

They eroded rules safeguarding the minority’s rights and prerogatives in a quest to place justices on the bench who would vote their way.

This long campaign culminated with the Senate ascendancies of two ham-fisted, short-sighted majority leaders, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Both McConnell and Reid seemed to devote more of their energies and attention to bedeviling and thwarting the other side than they did to serving the nation, oaths of office be damned.

Together, they transformed the judicial nomination process into a simple majority, strictly partisan affair.

And together they brought us to this moment, when a nominee to the nation’s highest court of law has been accused of attempted rape when he was a teenager – and the Senate seems more determined to move his elevation along than it is to determine the truth.

This isn’t right.

If the Senate does charge ahead with a vote without attempting in any credible way to determine the truth of Ford’s accusation, that once august body will undermine its own authority, further delegitimize the Supreme Court, increase the division in the country and do lasting damage to at least two lives.

Ford’s charge is a serious matter.

So is the possibility that Kavanaugh, an officer of the court, lied under oath.

He deserves a chance to clear his name.

She deserves to be heard and to have her accusation taken seriously.

A thorough investigation is the solution to both problems.

If Kavanaugh ascends to the court without a credible investigation, a sizable portion of the country will see his tenure as a justice as a miscarriage of justice. Every decision made by the court during his time on the bench will be viewed through that lens.

And, if he’s prevented from rising to the bench without the opportunity to clear his name, a sizable portion of the country will be outraged. Millions of citizens will be convinced they were screwed.

The truth – and the truth alone – will set us free.

I’ve known a fair number of U.S, senators from several states in my time – including the two who now serve Indiana, Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Todd Young.

To a person, every senator I’ve ever met has pledged a love and devotion to this country.

Now is the time to prove it.

The members of the Senate can stop this debacle from becoming a tragedy.

They can demand an investigation.

They can restore some faith in the process, preserve what’s left of the dignity of the court and honor the rights of both the accuser and the accused.

That’s what they should do.

Because, even if Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford are the ones under oath, the members of the U.S. Senate are the ones who are on trial.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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