On Saturday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court associate justice to fill the seat of recently retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh was confirmed in perhaps the most partisan confirmation vote in the history of the Senate. Only one Democrat — Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted yea.
Following the raucous hearings last week when Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on her allegations of sexual assault by Kavanaugh, and the subsequent testimony of a furious Kavanaugh, Sen. Jeff Flake claimed that the process was "tearing the country apart." That's probably hyperbole, but it's also true that serious damage was done in the process. Kavanaugh's allegations that the Democrats were out to get him raised serious questions about whether he had the judicial temperament to serve.
The highly partisan process threatens to erode further the trust of the American people in the highest court in the land — one that should stand for impartiality divorced of politics.
The majority of justices in recent history were confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support. The late-Antonin Scalia — a symbol of conservative jurisprudence — was confirmed with the support of 98 senators, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a symbol of liberal jurisprudence — was confirmed with 96 yea votes. Even the contentious confirmation vote of George H.W. Bush-nominated Clarence Thomas, following the Anita Hill hearings, was less partisan than the vote on Kavanaugh. Thomas is the last justice confirmed by a Senate controlled by a different party than the White House's.
Will that happen again? It's unlikely in the current climate, according to Jeffrey Rosen, CEO and president of the non-partisan National Constitution Center.
On the brighter side, the Kavanaugh confirmation process has prompted a wider scrutiny of the court, raising questions about the process of installing justices and its makeup — from the length of tenure to the number of justices serving on the bench.
One important reform proposal is term limits. According to Article III of the Constitution, justices "shall hold their offices during good behaviour" — interpreted to mean for life. When the Constitution was written, life spans were shorter than they are now; Kavanaugh, at 53, could be making judicial decisions for the next three decades or more, long after Donald Trump's presidency. By imposing term limits, the stakes in every confirmation hearing are lower. Putting a justice on the bench would not have the impact it has today.
Term limits are popular with voters of both parties. According to a 2015 Reuters poll, 66 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans are in favor of a 10-year term limit.