Partisan politics and the constitution

It is an interesting fact that the principal authors of the American constitution - Madison and Hamilton - believed that American governance would operate without political parties. At least, they did so when drafting the constitution. Almost as soon as it came into effect they became actively involved in partisan politics: Hamilton as the leading figure among the Federalists and Madison joining Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans.

Despite their change of heart, it remains the case that there are no clauses in the American constitution that apply only when Republicans are in office. Nonetheless, it seems that some Senators seem to believe there are. It is almost embarrassingly easy to contrast the statements of Senators Kennedy, Biden and others with regard to previous Supreme Court nominations with those of today. It was constitutionally improper to ask Democrat nominees to the Supreme Court how they would rule on particular cases, but it is apparently not only the right but the duty of Senators to ask exactly those questions of Republican nominees.

It may be that there are one or two examples of Republicans performing equal but opposite u-turns, though I am not aware of even one. But, on the whole, both of Bill Clinton's nominees to the Supreme Court received pretty fair hearings. There was no suggestion that they should be blocked on ideological grounds, and it was well understood that a Democrat would nominate Democrats to the Court.

Why are things so different today?

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