To millions watching across the world, the unfolding spectacle of Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the United States Supreme Court is perhaps a source of genuine puzzlement. Why is the ascension of a judge to America's highest court a political drama live on television, with senators rehearsing party creeds before voting today to confirm President Donald Trump's nominee? Is it not a simple question of judicial or legal competence? The law, and the Supreme Court, are above partisan politics and ideology, surely.
The Court's role is to interpret the Constitution, a 230-year-old document that America's distinctive democracy rests on. An "ideological" divergence, however, emerges in the interpretation. Should the Constitution be seen as a "living" document that evolves over time and can be adapted, without needing formal amendment, to resolve challenges thrown up by changing social mores, the economy and technology? Or is it sacrosanct but static, enshrining "eternal values" which must be protected against fickle public opinion? This philosophical tug of war between conservative "originalists" and liberal "living" constitutionalists is reflected in judgments made by the Court on contentious subjects like the legality of abortion, same sex marriage, the death penalty, affirmative action and euthanasia.