Opinion: A government of the 16 percent

Posted on Oct 5 2018 - 5:50am by Jacob Gambrell

Our nation is currently embroiled in a controversy over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. If you’re on the right, you cry, “Witch hunt!” If you’re on the left, you can choose to oppose him based on his beliefs about reproductive rights and executive privilege, three sexual assault accusations, perjury, extreme partisanship or angry temperament.  

However, polling has shown that even before the hearing with Dr. Ford last Thursday, Kavanaugh is the most unpopular Supreme Court nominee since 1987. According to a CNN report, his net approval rating was -4 percentage points — the previous 12 nominees have had an average approval rating of +20 percentage points. A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that this gap has grown to -6 percentage points. Of all respondents, 42 percent think he should be confirmed, while 48 percent think he shouldn’t.  

Despite this swell of popular opposition, Senate Republicans are poised to confirm him any day now. In our “democracy,” how can a nominee whom a large plurality of the country opposes be confirmed and placed on the Supreme Court to shape judicial precedent for the next three decades?

Our system of government does a horrible job of reflecting the popular opinion of Americans.  We are taught in school that the Founding Fathers were geniuses who crafted the greatest governing document in the history of mankind: the U.S. Constitution. However, this document wasn’t formed through a collaboration of the nation’s greatest minds discussing how to best govern the “American experiment.”

The founders fought tooth-and-nail and arrived at a compromise document that none of them liked, but it was better than the alternative. These compromises created things such as the bicameral legislature with the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Electoral College and the Three-Fifths Compromise. Notice how we view one of those compromises as an immoral mistake but view each of the others as a “stroke of genius.”

Though these compromises were needed for a collection of divided colonies to form a fledgling country in the 1780s, we are no longer bound by their same restraints. While we have enfranchised Americans who do not fit the white, male and land-owning requirements, we still use the institutions created by our founders. It is possible in our “democracy” for a party to win control of the 50 Senate seats in the 25 smallest states and run our country while representing only 16 percent of Americans. Assuming only 77 percent of Americans are eligible to vote, 60 percent of them do vote and, for simplicity’s sake, 50 percent will win any election, a party could win these 50 Senate seats by receiving votes from 3.68 percent of the U.S. population. Under the same assumptions, that same party could win the 269 electoral votes needed to win the Presidency by receiving votes from just 10.44 percent of the U.S. population. Then, the Senate and president can put anyone on the Supreme Court and control 2.5 of the three branches of the U.S. government with so little support.  

In a democracy, a nominee as unpopular as Kavanaugh would never be placed on the Supreme Court. The Constitution we inherited from the 18th century didn’t give us a democracy, and if we truly want to be “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” maybe #TimesUp for this antiquated document, too.

Jacob Gambrell is a senior international studies major from Chattanooga, Tennessee.