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America’s Tarnished Supreme Court

Summary:
For those who have only ever known America as a champion of democracy and the rule of law, it has been tragic to witness the country's descent into corruption and bad-faith partisanship. And nowhere is the rule of "dark money" more evident than in the rushed confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett's appointment to the Supreme Court. LONDON – Born in 1944, I grew up in a world largely made – and made pretty well – by America. The post-war settlement established institutions, global rules, and an alliance of free societies that enabled most of us to thrive in peace. The Everlasting Mao PS OnPoint Tao Zhang/Getty Images

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For those who have only ever known America as a champion of democracy and the rule of law, it has been tragic to witness the country's descent into corruption and bad-faith partisanship. And nowhere is the rule of "dark money" more evident than in the rushed confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett's appointment to the Supreme Court.

LONDON – Born in 1944, I grew up in a world largely made – and made pretty well – by America. The post-war settlement established institutions, global rules, and an alliance of free societies that enabled most of us to thrive in peace.

There were mistakes, of course, with the Vietnam War being a prime example. Yet despite some strategic errors, the world’s open societies fared well and generally adhered to their stated principles. Through what Harvard University’s Joseph S. Nye, Jr. calls “soft power,” America consistently won the argument in favor of the rule of law and liberal democracy. When given a free choice, most people chose these values over the alternatives.

I was thinking about this worthy tradition as I watched this month’s US Senate hearings to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Listening to the proceedings, I found myself thinking that, whatever our failings in Britain (there are plenty, and the number has ballooned under Boris Johnson’s premiership), at least we do not need to know what political opinions our judges hold. Does the head of the UK Supreme Court favor gay marriage or protections for abortion? No one would dream of demanding a response to such questions before deciding whether a judicial appointee is qualified to serve.

I have no reason to doubt Barrett’s abilities. Like me, she is a Catholic, which should not be a barrier. Yet I do have considerable misgivings about her judicial philosophy and the particular manner of her appointment – and on the latter issue, she should agree. On the jurisprudential question, Barrett is a disciple of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, meaning she is an “originalist” who tries to approach the law through the eyes of those who drafted the US Constitution more than 230 years ago.

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Chris Patten
Associate Director of Design Thinking, Henry Ford Learning Institute. I use design to make complex issues more tangible and build empathy among stakeholders.

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