Say what you will about Senator Lisa Murkowski, but there’s no doubt she’s become one of the most powerful and consequential members of the U.S. Senate to date. In a nation mired in uncompromising partisan loyalty and gridlock, she’s been part of the deciding vote on several issues over the course of her tenure.
Just a year ago, Murkowski was the key hold-out vote in the GOP’s last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare. Not too long before that, she was one of few undecided votes on multiple bills that would have partially or fully defunded Planned Parenthood. This time, Murkowski is in the spotlight over President Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court, current U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Some conservatives have called for senators to adopt a textual paradigm when evaluating Kavanaugh’s nomination. That is, will he uphold the Constitution based on its written form? The problem is that the Constitution is and was meant to be a living, breathing document. Previous judges have weighed in on issues via their own interpretation of the Constitution, which was intentionally kept vague. Madison himself envisioned the Constitution signed in 1787 to last just over 10 years, given the decisive failure of the Articles of Confederation.
That means that senators should adjudicate nominations to the Supreme Court based on whether their vision for the Constitution reconciles with the political context we exist in today.
Based on that framework, it’s clear that Murkowski must vote no on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.
First, Kavanaugh represents an imminent threat to abortion rights. Proponents of his nomination claim that Kavanaugh has promised to respect the “binding precedent” of Roe v Wade. Kavanaugh’s own written dissents and statements say otherwise. He has praised the dissenting opinion in Roe v Wade. Kavanaugh himself wrote a dissent in a D.C. Circuit case that a young undocumented minor in detention was entitled to seek an abortion. In his dissent, he wrote that “the government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion.”
Murkowski has promised to protect the organizations that champions reproductive rights, such as Planned Parenthood. By extension, she has a duty to vote against any judicial threat to the most important reproductive right of all.
Second, Kavanaugh is hostile to indigenous claims to sovereignty that disproportionately affect Alaska Natives. His own opinion piece to the Wall Street Journal in 1999 made the case that Native Hawaiians were not entitled to sovereignty protections under the Constitution based on simple historical and geographical inaccuracies.
Kavanaugh’s narrow views on sovereignty claims would jeopardize the standing of the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and other laws grounded in indigenous self-determination. Should his nomination happen before a case deciding on control over Alaska’s rivers, Sturgeon v Frost, laws protecting subsistence rights to original lands could also fall to the wayside.
That’s why multiple Alaska Native groups, such as Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which represents over 30,000 tribal citizens, have come out against Kavanaugh’s nomination. Murkowski should listen to the Native constituents depending on her to protect them from further erosion to their rights.
The final reason Murkowski should vote no is due to the accusations of sexual assault piling up against Kavanaugh. Though it’s tempting to gravitate towards claims that these accusations are motivated by self-interest and malice, it’s worth noting the risk these women have taken on by sharing their stories. Since going public, Christine Ford has already been forced to leave her own home. His other accusers are soon to be subjected to tense public scrutiny.
But more broadly, the risk includes the constant culture of denial, shaming, death threats and judicial negligence women face by levying an accusation against men. Given the complete lack of incentive these women possess to make up their stories and the extremely low probability of false accusations more generally, we should believe Kavanaugh’s accusers.
For those asking why you should care even if the accusations are true, it’s because the judgement of an individual is directly tied to the decisions they make, moral or judicial. To sexually assault someone is to strip their dignity from them and assert power in an inexplicably dark way. The possibility that he might do the same again by siding with an abusive defendant in a consequential case is enough to keep him from deciding on the highest law of the land.
Brett Kavanaugh represents everything Alaska stands against: a threat to reproductive rights, indigenous self-determination and moral consciousness. Murkowski should continue her tradition of standing with Alaskans and vote no.