In the Torah, Jews are repeatedly commanded to prioritize the cause of justice, most famously in Deuteronomy 16:18-20 (“Justice, justice shall you pursue”). In modern America, perhaps no institution embodies this concept more than the Supreme Court, which makes crucial decisions about our nation’s moral and constitutional standards. For this reason, next week’s hearings on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to our nation’s highest court present one of the most dire threats to the Jewish vision of justice in modern American history.
Based on Kavanaugh’s judicial record and public statements, we already know that his positions on issues like reproductive rights, religious liberty and voting rights are directly at odds with the core values of the majority of our community. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would shift the balance of the court decisively against the right of women to control their own bodies, against protections for LGBTQ Americans from discrimination, and against the right of low-income Americans and people of color to participate fully in our democracy, all rights which the Central Conference of American Rabbis has long fought for.
Worse yet, if Kavanaugh is confirmed, his views of expansive, nearly unlimited presidential power are likely to extend further authority to a president who has repeatedly expressed a fondness for authoritarian governments. Thanks to Senate Republicans’ efforts to frantically rush through Kavanaugh’s confirmation while allowing the release of only a tiny fraction of the documents designed to give us further insight into Kavanaugh’s previous work and views, what we don’t know about his past presents even greater danger.
This troubling situation makes Kavanaugh’s upcoming confirmation hearings one of the most important political moments in memory, because it is our only chance to examine how his addition to the Court may change our fundamental rights for at least a generation. Already, his nomination is the most widely opposed by Americans in many years, but we must ensure that our Senators, through these hearings, provide a true picture of the nominee.
For Jewish Americans invested in the future of our country, the basic questions are clear. Because a Supreme Court with Kavanaugh on the bench would shape our laws in long-lasting ways, we must insist that lawmakers ask probing questions on key topics that speak to the core of our Jewish values:
Reproductive rights: Do you believe in the right of a woman to control her own body, including the right to an abortion? Do you believe that Roe v. Wade was correctly decided? Do you believe a woman’s access to birth control should be controlled by her employer?
Religious liberty: Do you believe that LGBTQ Americans should be denied access to health care, employment or government services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity? Should private businesses be able to claim discriminatory “religious exemptions” that deny the basic dignity of their fellow Americans?
Voting rights: Do you believe that African Americans still confront discriminatory laws that make it more difficult for them to vote? Should we abandon Affirmative Action, voting rights protections and other laws that expand access to opportunity and make society more just for all?
Presidential power: Is the president above the rule of law? Should the president be required to comply with a subpoena? Is it acceptable for the president to issue pardons to his close political allies and family members – or even himself?
As his predecessors have done, Kavanaugh will more likely than not seek to dodge these or other similar questions, citing a desire to avoid expressing opinions on matters that might come before the Court. We must not allow him to disguise a lack of transparency as respect for tradition or an attempt to avoid demonstrating bias. Any nominee who is not able to answer these basic questions about our most fundamental rights is not being true to the American people and can’t be entrusted with serving on the nation’s highest court.
Without sustained, intense engagement, these hearings are over before they start. As a Jewish community, we must follow the Kavanaugh hearings closely and demand that Senators fulfill their constitutional role by fully vetting and scrutinizing the president’s nominees. Only by holding our representatives’ feet to the fire can we demand that Kavanaugh confront these crucial issues in a public setting.
The questions posed here are not technical questions of law, and they are not simple policy positions with predicable differences between liberal and conservative preferences. At issue are fundamental values of human rights, of dignity, of justice – core Jewish values that dictate how we must respond. What is at stake with this nomination is too consequential to succumb to our political fatigue, too important to allow the process to play out and hope for the best. Upholding our tradition of pursuing justice requires our committed engagement and demands that we pull every lever to stop this threat to what we hold dear.