The Public Policy Organization presented a forum on judicial polarization Tuesday night, featuring three faculty members from the Division of History, Government and Social Sciences: Dr. Roger Bradley, Dr. Brenda Schoolfield and Linda Abrams.
“[The forum was] a look at the Supreme Court, how it has evolved in the last several decades as the composition of the court has become more diverse,” said Abrams, the primary political science faculty member on campus. “The justices have great differences of opinion but have found a way to maintain a civil, workable, professional relationship, but may be more importantly strong, personal friendships with their colleagues despite the different ways they view the Constitution and society.” Abrams said this teamwork has not been reflected in elections and other political processes.
Jonathan Valadez, senior international studies major and president of the PPO, said the organization knew they wanted to discuss polarization in some form during their semester forum. “Polarization is when a group of people strongly identify with a specific faction, can be an ideology, belief, whatever it is . . . to the extent that the body or the group as a whole becomes fragmented,” Valadez said. Valadez said this is an example of very strong polarization, but believes that even minor polarization beyond disagreements has reached BJU campus.
“Polarization has been a big . . . theme that’s been occurring lately in American politics,” Valadez said. “I’ve personally witnessed a few occasions on campus that I think are events that stemmed directly out of polarization.”
“In any place where you are managing conflict, it is by nature political.” —Jonathan Valadez
Valadez said he hoped the forum would emphasize that while individuals can think differently about different issues, it should not affect the way they view other people. “If we as Christians fight over our political differences, then we have conceded the point altogether,” Valadez said. “We have admitted falsely that our common identity in Christ is not more unifying than any political, or ideological or racial difference is divisive. And that’s not right because the opposite is true.”
The PPO narrowed the topic to polarization in the judicial nomination process because of the recent death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Ryan Parimi, senior English major and events coordinator for the PPO, moderated the forum. Parimi said he thinks the forum went well. “I think all of our panelists were very knowledgeable about the subject,” Parimi said. “I think they answered all [the] questions, probably even more thoroughly than [we] wanted.”
The forum was divided into three discussions, starting with preselected questions presented to the speakers and then allowing a time for the audience to ask their own questions. The first section focused on recent history and functioning of the Supreme Court starting with the nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.
The second section focused on current events, asking questions about why the nomination process has become polarized and whether the Supreme Court has real political power.
“Many people think the Supreme Court’s supposed to be apolitical, but they don’t realize that politics is the management of conflict,” Valadez said. “So, in any place where you are managing conflict, it is by nature political.”
Bradley, who teaches a class on U.S. history, said he found the topic interesting because it is not immediately obvious how SCOTUS became what it is today. “The framers of our Constitution tried to do their best to insulate our judiciary against political influence, and yet I’m not sure there’s anybody left today who would say that it was not somehow politically influenced,” Bradley said.
The final section discussed hypothetical solutions to the polarization of the nomination process.
“Apart from divine intervention, the solution to those problems would have to involve some sort of popular opposition to that,” Bradley said. He said political influences in government and in the judicial system are guided by simple incentive. “I’m afraid that this has become more common though in America and other places, that if I see that I owe my position and authority to some interest group or some corporation or some other organization, then that’s who I’m going to make happy,” he said. Bradley said as Christians, this fact requires being politically engaged on a level according to the calling of God. “We shouldn’t all run for Congress, but there are some people who are answering God’s call to do so,” Bradley said.
“This issue about the judicial polarization in the Supreme Court in particular merely highlights the problem in our society of not being able to see the value of compromise.” —Dr. Schoolfield
However, Bradley also said he believes solutions sometimes lie in civil disobedience. “It’s not at all beyond the realm of possibility that you and I will be subject to authorities in which we in good conscience are going to have to respectfully and humbly reject that authority,” he said. “The two have to go together, being active and knowledgeable but also recognizing that we may have to approach that authority differently at some point.”
Schoolfield specifically focused on an area of her personal interest, the work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and how it affected the polarization of the court.
“This issue about the judicial polarization in the Supreme Court in particular merely highlights the problem in our society of not being able to see the value of compromise,” Schoolfield said. “The population has a problem with being able to get along with each other, being able to disagree civilly. I don’t know that the polarization on the bench is as much of a problem as it is in real life.”