Battle lines drawn over Supreme Court pick
The partisan war over the U.S. Supreme Court was on the verge of going nuclear this week, after President Trump nominated Colorado federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, a solid conservative, to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia. After a months-long selection process that began with 21 candidates, Trump introduced Gorsuch, 49, in a televised prime-time ceremony, saying his nominee “has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline, and has earned bipartisan support.” Democrats, however, are furious that the Republican Senate majority blocked Merrick Garland, President Obama’s choice for the seat, refusing even to hold hearings for 10 months after Scalia’s death last February. “This is a stolen seat,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats would filibuster Trump’s pick, because Gorsuch needed to prove himself “mainstream” enough to win over at least some Democrats and attract 60 votes. Trump said that if Democrats use the filibuster, Republicans should “go nuclear” and change Senate rules to allow Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed with a simple majority. The GOP holds a 52-48 edge in the upper chamber.
If confirmed, Gorsuch would tip the 4-4 court back to the right. Like Scalia, he is an originalist, who believes the Constitution should be interpreted by the intentions of those who wrote it, not in the context of modern perspectives and values. Gorsuch has voted consistently in favor of religious-liberty claims, backing exemptions for faith-based nonprofits opposed to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. His record offers no explicit evidence of his views on gay marriage or abortion; he opposed assisted suicide and euthanasia in a 2006 book, writing that human life was “fundamentally and inherently valuable.”
What the editorials said
“No one can replace Antonin Scalia,” said The Wall Street Journal, “but Trump has made an excellent attempt.” A respected jurist, Gorsuch “will adhere to the original meaning of the Constitution,” protect religious liberty, and restrain government overreach. “Every recent Republican president has disappointed supporters with at least one of his Supreme Court picks.” Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy drifted left over the years, but Gorsuch is unlikely to waver.
“The Republicans stole this seat from Obama,” said The Charlotte Observer. But Democrats shouldn’t sink to similar depths. Instead of rejecting Gorsuch sight unseen, they must give him a fair hearing. “We are as worried as anyone about the tilt the Supreme Court might take under Trump, a damaging legacy that could last decades.” Yet Democrats owe it to the American people to assess Gorsuch for who he is—and if he’s truly outside the mainstream, they “have a responsibility to do what they can to defeat him.”
What the columnists said
Gorsuch is Trump’s thank-you gift to white evangelicals, said McKay Coppins in TheAtlantic.com. During the campaign, they winced at his rhetoric, “cringed at his biblical illiteracy, and sighed at his less-than-holy personal life.” But 80 percent voted for him anyway, because he promised to appoint conservative justices “who would protect their religious freedom and fight abortion from the bench.” Their “deal with the devil” just paid off.
Democrats should “just say no,” said Scott Lemieux in New Republic.com. “Gorsuch is a disastrous appointment from a liberal perspective.” An admirer of Scalia, he’ll oppose Roe v. Wade and be “hostile to the rights of employees and racial minorities.” Some argue Democrats should save the filibuster for a later battle—say, to replace an aging liberal like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But Republicans will probably blow up the filibuster anyway. So why hold back?
Go ahead, Republicans, “push the nuclear button,” said Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post. When Democrats scrapped the filibuster for executive branch nominations and lifetime federal court appointments in 2013, a “line was crossed.” Does anyone doubt that if they’d held the Senate last year, Schumer and friends wouldn’t have used the nuclear option to force through Garland? The GOP now has the chance to appoint a justice who will reshape America’s legal landscape for decades to come. If Republicans nuke the filibuster to do that, “Democrats will have no one to blame but themselves—because they set the precedent.”