I am exceedingly disappointed in disability community leaders. They are engaging in what Senator Ben Sasse recently referred to as “theatrics.” While theatrics may, admittedly, serve a purpose in some advocacy pursuits, the theatrics prompting interruptions of Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings are meritless. Beyond that, they reveal a fundamental misunderstanding about the role of the Supreme Court. I’m embarrassed that disability community leaders have hijacked the Kavanaugh hearings to reveal, at best, ignorance, and at worst, manipulation by Democratic Party operatives.
Yesterday I was having a conversation with two friends who also advocate within the disability community. One friend shared that she had written letters oppositing Kavanaugh’s nomination. I asked why she disagreed with Kavanaugh’s pending appointment to the Supreme Court, and she was surprised I did not know that he is “against” people with disabilities. How so, I asked. My friend said that he had made statements revealing his bias against people with disabilities. Yet, when I asked for further details, she could not seem to remember the words he used. Round and round we went, but my friend either could not or would not specifically identify what actions Kavanagh had taken that offended her so deeply.
My other friend jumped in, telling me Kavanagh forced two women with disabilities to have abortions against their will. I said I found that highly unlikely, as Judge Kavanaugh is a self-identified Catholic. I suggested, instead, that he had upheld a surrogate decision-making policy in the Doe Tarlow v. D.C. decision. Surrogate decision-making policies were at issue because the women had been deemed unable to give consent. Importantly, this decision tells us nothing about Judge Kavanaugh’s personal thoughts about people with disabilities. Instead, the decision reveals only that the surrogate decision-making policies at issue in the decision were constitutional and appropriately applied.
Now, I’m not saying that I agree with the underlying policy Kavanaugh upheld. And we don’t know whether Kavanaugh did, either. Critically, the role of a judge is to interpret the law – not to determine whether a law is “good” or “bad,” and most certainly not to make it. Indeed, I believe these are the fundamental facts that leaders within the disability community fail to grasp. By coming out so strongly against Kavanaugh, and by insinuating that he is a less-than-honorable man, they look rather foolish.
I am concerned that when the disability community needs to advocate for or against a particular piece of legislation – as it should do – too many bridges will have been burned on the Republican side of the aisle. I’ve never witnessed the disability community come out en force against pro-“choice” judicial nominees who think nothing of a woman engaging in her right to selectively abort a fetus on the basis of its disability. Similarly, I’ve not seen disability community leaders interrupt hearings of judicial nominees that support creating a judicially-recognized right to physician-assisted suicide. So why all the fuss about a Supreme Court candidate nominated by a Republican president?
Even worse, I am concerned that the disability rights movement will have lost some of its credibility, demonstrating its fundamental misunderstanding of balance of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Simply, the judiciary does not create law. People with disabilities would be better-served if more attention spent getting focusing on the legislative branch and its ability to create law – that is where the community can have real, lasting influence in improving conditions for all people with disabilities.