By: Tim Goeglein
The late/great novelist Tom Wolfe once posited that there would arrive a moment where fiction would lose its relevance because the reality of American life was so much more compelling and, at turns, unbelievable.
Such was the week or so after the midterm elections in Washington DC. It was a little like living inside a dynamic, almost surreal novel.
On Capitol Hill, the balance of power shifted from red to blue in the House of Representatives. The United States Senate went in the opposite direction, getting redder by the moment, albeit with new fights in the offing over potential recounts.
At The White House, the revocations of CNN press credentials, a terminated Attorney General, and an altogether palpable new buzz about the endless Mueller investigation and where it is wending, or isn’t, continued to dominate the headlines.
It was all head-spinning, and unresolved.
Yet the third branch, the judicial branch, and especially life at the Supreme Court, seemed to be almost safe, sane, and steady by comparison. After the late-summer folderol and vitriol over the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, that august body eagerly settled into its regular routine, hearing major new cases and welcoming on Thursday 200 guests for one of the most majestic, simple, ancient ceremonies in the life of the court – the Investiture of its newest justice, aged 53.
At just after 10 a.m., a bell rang; seven of the nine justices entered the courtroom from behind red velvet curtains, berobed and looking solemn, after which Chief Justice John Roberts officially swore-in Justice Kavanaugh. The Bible was placed just-so, the new justice raised his hand, pledged his oath, and when it was over, no one clapped or spoke. The court’s chief usher, wearing a morning coat, read the presidential commission making it all official ‘in the year of our Lord 2018’ and it was over, ten minutes from first to last.
Again, no one clapped or spoke – the silence of freedom. The President and First Lady sat to the left of the court’s mahogany dais, and said not a word; in fact, they were not asked to speak. This was the quiet power of the third branch.
Another bell went off; the justices exited behind the curtains; and it was history. The guests flowed into an elegant, silver-trayed reception of goodwill and friendship, and the life of the court rolled on, seamlessly and without fanfare. The justices minged, out of robe, and there was absolutely no political talk. It was civil, magnanimous, and of grace. Festive.
The President and his small retinue departed from the back of the court; the helicopters overhead dissipated into the clouds; and the few members of Congress present, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said their good-byes. No cameras; no microphones; no flash bulbs.
Sometimes power is circus-like, and we are seeing plenty of that in Washington DC in the post-midterm election life: politicians jockeying for power in the House and Senate; much speculation about new Cabinet members and pending resignations; and massive debates over special prosecutors, and new congressional agendas. The list is long.
Yes sometimes power is of quietude, and in the shadows. It is tangible, but more ephemeral.
After all, someone was missing from the dais at the Supreme Court: 85 year old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She had fallen the evening before in her chambers, fracturing some ribs. She was not mentioned at the Investiture, and later, only indirectly. Yet it prompted undoubted speculation that two members of the court are in their 80s, and power is fleeting.
Perhaps the most substantial domestic achievement of the Trump presidency thus far is: Two Supreme Court justices; 29 appellate judges; and 53 district/specialty court judges. That is massive by any historical benchmark.
And we are only 24 months from the next election.
Tom Wolfe was right: the real is sometimes more compelling than fiction.
Tim Goeglein is Focus on the Family’s Vice President of External Affairs and is based in Washington
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