The recent political debates, rallies, and Senate hearings for potential Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett should have been a dream come true for every social studies teacher and college professor in the country. It is not every day that students have an opportunity to watch history unfold before them, and what a civics lesson this was!
While some may argue that a sensitive topic like politics should be off-limits in public school classrooms, the fact is they are ideal places for such discussions to occur. As long as teachers follow the basic tenet of political instruction, which prohibits them from forcing or even sharing their personal political views with their students, they can engage young people in rich, philosophical discussions that force them to assess what they and others are doing and saying.
Come to think of it, that’s not a bad thing for us old people to do, too.
Teaching students about politics, but not forcing one’s personal politics on them is not as difficult as it may sound if a focus on the facts is one’s goal. In our digitalized world, where what people do and say is recorded for eternity, fact-checking what politicians tell us is a fairly simple thing to do.
For example, as members of both political parties vilified members of the other party for taking a stance for this nomination that was 180 degrees from the one they took when President Obama wanted to nominate Merrick Garland during his last year in office, one only has to search the online archives to see members of both parties saying exactly the opposite of what they said four years ago.
In other words, neither party has a monopoly on hypocrisy.
Vice-Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris, in her effort to delegitimize President Trump’s nomination of Judge Coney Barrett a mere few weeks before the election, passionately relayed the story of President Abraham Lincoln holding off nominating someone for the Supreme Court thanks to his uncommon dignity when he was faced with an opening just days before his re-election.
But, a simple check of the archives of history shows that her representation of the story was not true.
During the nomination hearing, Senator Mazie Hirono from Hawaii expressed outrage at Judge Coney Barrett’s use of the term “sexual preference” instead of “sexual orientation” during the hearing, claiming it was proof that the judge was against the most basic human rights.
Senator Hirono expressed no such outrage when videos surfaced of both Vice President Biden and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg using the same term in speeches they had given.
Students should be taught about the selective outrage that exists in both parties.
When Judge Coney Barrett would not answer questions about specific cases, citing judicial ethics, Democrats expressed disappointment that she was “refusing” to answer their questions, while suggesting she was trying to hide something from the American people. However, a check of previous hearings showed potential justices nominated by both parties giving the same answer.
In other words, she followed the same practice established by those who came before her.
The term “packing the Court” has been bandied about by members of both parties in reaction to Judge Barrett’s nomination. Some Democrats have charged President Trump with “packing the Court,” since this is his third nomination to the High Court.
However, history tells us that is not what “packing the court” means. The term was coined in 1937 when Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the “Judicial Procedures Reform Bill.” Roosevelt wanted to appoint additional justices to the court with the express intent of getting a more favorable ruling for his New Deal legislation, because the Court, as structured, had found many of his proposals unconstitutional, and he didn’t like that.
So, he wanted to pack the Court with additional justices so he could enact his wishes.
He garnered very little support for his plan. Some accused him of trying to be a dictator. Even his Vice-President opposed him. His efforts ultimately failed, when, in 1937, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted down the bill while calling it “a needless, futile, and utterly dangerous abandonment of constitutional principle.”
This decision was made when Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress and the Presidency.
In other words, President Trump has not engaged in “Court packing.”
In 2016, under no authority granted by the US Constitution, Senator Mitch McConnell would not entertain any Supreme Court nominee made by President Obama, because it was an election year.
Today, Democrats are proclaiming that President Trump’s nomination of Judge Coney Barrett is a “sham” and “illegitimate.”
It is neither under the US Constitution.
The list goes on and on.
It would be nice if our elected officials adhered to a code of conduct that ensured that citizens could believe what we are told. But, alas, that ship has sailed.
So, what we, and by “we,” this includes every responsible adult, can teach our children is that it doesn’t have to be this way; that leaders can be honest and trustworthy; that not every topic has to be defined by false charges and innuendos meant to legitimize our position and delegitimize someone else’s; that there is a Constitution of the United States of America from which many answers can be obtained; and that there is no “evil” party and “righteous” one.
We can also teach them to think for themselves; to research issues thoroughly before developing an opinion; to debate respectfully with those with whom they disagree; to understand that there isn’t always one right answer, and to develop their opinion based on the facts and not because a member of their preferred party said it was so.
But, most of all, we can teach them that the people representing us in D.C. answer to us, not vice versa.
That’s a lesson all of us should remember.