Sen. Sasse Gives an "Eighth-Grade Civics Lesson" at Supreme Court Hearing. It Got PannedHistorians in the News
tags: Supreme Court, Senate, civics, Ben Sasse, Amy Coney Barrett
Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, decided to give what he called an eighth-grade civics lesson to those listening to the confirmation hearing Monday for President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Sasse, who has a doctorate in American history from Yale University, used his opening statement to lecture those who were listening on what he said was the distinction between civics and politics. “If we can back up and do a little bit of eighth-grade civics, I think it would benefit us and benefit the watching country and especially watching eighth-grade civics classes,” he said.
Then he went on to depict the Democrats on the committee as engaging in politics but not the Republicans, drawing a tidal wave of criticism on social media from people who called him hypocritical — and a bad teacher of civics.
There were, it was noted, some basic problems with definitions. Whoever wrote the speech for him appeared to have misunderstood some legal terms — whether eighth-graders learn them or not. For example, Sasse defined “originalism” this way: “Originalism, also known as textualism, is basically the old idea from eighth-grade civics that judges don’t get to make laws.”
But according to the National Constitutional Center in Philadelphia, that’s not what it means. It’s a theory of the interpretation of legal texts, including the Constitution. The center’s website says:
“Originalists believe that the constitutional text ought to be given the original public meaning that it would have had at the time that it became law. … Originalism is usually contrasted as a theory of constitutional interpretation with Living Constitutionalism. Living constitutionalists believe that the meaning of the constitutional text changes over time, as social attitudes change, even without the adoption of a formal constitutional amendment pursuant to Article V of the Constitution.”
Sasse was criticized by many on social media for his remarks on “court packing,” a term historically linked to an unsuccessful effort by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to add six members to the Supreme Court after it struck down some New Deal laws.
And there was this: Sasse talked about the importance of appointing justices not for their political views but rather for their ability to interpret law, without noting that Trump made clear he was selecting Barrett because of her positions on controversial political issues.
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