Our Elected Officials Are a Threat to Civic Knowledge

As senators began their opening statements prior to the first hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Democratic Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono was flanked by large posters featuring photographs of individuals with serious diseases. Hirono said that in nominating Barrett, President Donald Trump was using a “hypocritical and illegitimate process” in “keeping his promise” to install the “deciding vote to take health care away from millions of people.”

Minutes later, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker speculated that in Barrett’s America, women who had miscarriages would be investigated to make sure they didn’t have abortions. Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris defended the Supreme Court’s legalization on same-sex marriage by saying “love is love,” a legal principle conspicuously missing from the Federalist Papers.

The entire spectacle—of senators peppering a conservative nominee with questions about whether she would take health care from people or make it harder for minorities to vote—distorts the public perception of the proper role of the legislative and judicial branches. The conflation of judicial opinions with policy preferences is why every Supreme Court nomination fight now resembles the intensity of a presidential election crammed into a few tense weeks.

And most of this disinformation isn’t spread by blogs, or bad social studies teachers, or even Russian Twitter bots. It is spread primarily by elected officials trying to wring votes out of a malleable electorate. In doing so, they are bleeding the public of basic civic knowledge.

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