‘Litmus test’ must not be a four-letter word

I have long wondered why the term “litmus test” has become a sort of plague to politicians running for offices that hold the power of appointment.

The U.S. Supreme Court, for instance, is going to become a key issue in the 2020 presidential campaign. Namely, the issue will revolve a potential appointment of the next justice on the nine-member court.

The expected Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, will insist he would appoint justices with a record of favoring pro-life litigants who would come before his or her court. Indeed, he’s already got two judicial appointments on the SCOTUS and they certainly seem to fit the bill prescribed by what Trump has said.

The large field of Democratic Party candidates will argue to a person that they want judicial candidates who take a more expansive view of a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

But no one says they will apply a “litmus test” to determine who they intend to nominate the highest court in the nation.

They dance all over and around the issue. Litmus tests exist on all sorts of issues. They involve capital punishment, sentencing guidelines, drug policy, firearm ownership and, yes, abortion.

We know the types of individuals that presidents would nominate. They telegraph that punch before they deliver it. However, we refuse to hold them accountable on whether they are applying litmus tests on the individuals they are considering for these appointments.

U.S. senators who have the right to confirm or deny these appointments often make their decisions on single issues. Yet they won’t ever acknowledge they have applied a litmus test to the nominee, indicating whether they pass or fail the exam.

This is a circuitous way of saying, I suppose, that we apply litmus tests at every turn.

Why not, then, just call them what we know them to be?

Leave a Reply