On September 4–7, the United States Senate held hearings on the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to replace outgoing Justice Anthony Kennedy. The hearings were more raucous than usual, with several delays and attempted delays by protesters and grandstanding politicians. Eleven observations on the hearings follow.

1. The entire spectacle was unnecessary. As per Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution and the Senate’s current procedural rules, confirming the appointment of a new Justice to the Supreme Court requires a simple majority vote in the Senate. The Republicans currently have 51 Senators, and several red-state Democrats face pressure to confirm Kavanaugh because they are up for re-election in November. The rest of the Senate Democrats are unlikely to break with their #Resist ethos, no matter what Kavanaugh may say or do. The hearings gave Kavanaugh a chance to hang himself, of which he did not avail himself, and had no reasonable chance of bringing more support on board. There was thus no practical purpose to the hearings, which therefore served only as a public spectacle for each side to status signal. Since the matter will be decided almost exactly along party lines anyway, it would have been more efficient to skip the hearings and just vote.

2. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–IA) is inept at chairing a committee. Much of the first day of hearings consisted of various Senate Democrats, especially those with presidential ambitions for 2020, trying to disrupt or adjourn the hearings. Sens. Kamala Harris (D–CA), Richard Blumenthal (D–CT), Cory Booker (D–NJ), Dick Durbin (D–IL), and even ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D–CA) got in on the obstruction, delaying the formal beginning of the proceedings for more than 75 minutes. Sen. John Cornyn (R–TX) described the hearing as “mob rule,” to which Grassley took offense but not meaningful action. Meanwhile, protesters kept interrupting and were gradually removed instead of completely cleared from the gallery at once, which irritated Sen. Orrin Hatch (R–UT). A more competent chair quickly would have taken decisive countermeasures.

3. The Democratic Party leadership is in an impossible position. On September 5, thirteen leftist activist organizations sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–NY) expressing their frustration with the inability of Democrats to stop Kavanaugh. They criticized him for not “lead[ing] [his] caucus in complete opposition to Trump’s attempted Supreme Court takeover” and for “help[ing] Majority Leader Mitch McConnell fast track 15 Trump judicial nominees.”

“That is not the leadership we need,” said the letter.

Other activists trended the hashtag #WTFchuck on Twitter and used a billboard truck to advertise it around Washington, D.C. Still others protested at Sen. Schumer’s office. Even so, the letter acknowledges that success is impossible unless two Republicans would vote no alongside every Democrat. They still expect “nothing less than all-out resistance to Trump’s dangerous agenda”, but there is no means to achieve victory because they lack the votes.

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