It’s regrettable that the U.S. Supreme Court has become such a blatant political vehicle for both parties, but such is the case in 2017.
With President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat left vacant by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last year, a giant legal fight over Gorsuch’s confirmation may be on its way.
Many Democrats, feeling the need to get even, are in support of a filibuster of Gorsuch in the U.S. Senate. They believe retaliation is in order after Senate Republicans refused to hold hearings last year for moderate judge Merrick Garland, who then-President Barack Obama nominated to replace Scalia.
To them, no matter Gorsuch’s qualifications, he would be an illegitimate justice because of the way the whole Garland situation went down. The seat would be “stolen.”
Yes, the petulance shown by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans was ridiculous so it’s understandable the Democrats would now be eager to oppose the new president at every turn. And Gorsuch, like any other justice, should be thoroughly vetted.
But whether or not you would agree with his approach to interpreting the Constitution or his political leanings, Gorsuch is considered by almost all of his colleagues on both sides of the fence to be exceptionally qualified for the seat.
Thus, he deserves hearings and a vote and Democrats would be unwise to block them.
The Democrats are currently operating with limited power. They have lost the White House, are the minority party in Congress and, on a nationwide scale, only control roughly a third of governorships. As a result, their margin of error is a lot less than that of congressional Republicans the previous six years when they played political gridlock with the Obama administration.
A confirmation of Gorsuch would restore the court to its status before Scalia’s death. That is four conservatives (Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Gorsuch), four liberals (justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor) and one more or less in the middle, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has often been the swing vote for the court’s most politically-charged cases in recent years.
If the Democrats attempt to filibuster Gorsuch, McConnell may very well opt to invoke the “nuclear option,” which would eliminate the 60-vote requirement for cloture on nominees to the Supreme Court and instead allow debate to be cut off by a simple majority vote.
Trump is set to be president for at least the next four years and Ginsburg is not getting younger at 83. Kennedy is 80. Breyer is 78. By contrast, the youngest of the three reliably conservative justices currently sitting on the court is Thomas at 68.
Now, there’s no way Ginsburg or Breyer would leave the court during the Trump presidency other than death. But if that were to happen and Trump were to get another crack at it, he could go even further to the right or more unconventional in terms of a qualified nominee. And without the 60-vote rule in place, Democrats would be powerless to stop it.
Though historical trends suggest Democrats will one day regain control of Congress, the prospects of that don’t look great in the 2018 midterms. While Republicans will only have to defend eight Senate seats, Democrats will have to defend 23 as well as two seats held by independent senators who caucus with the Democrats.
If Trump is re-elected or any other Republican is elected in 2020 (Yes, I think there very well might be a primary challenge.), it would mean another four years of control over Supreme Court vacancies likely to change the balance of the court for decades.
The Democrats lost in 2016 for far more reasons than just an awakening of white nationalism and if they want to win, they need to re-examine their vision and how they are articulating it to people across the country.
New methods of thinking and new blood are needed, but with the re-election of Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader and Chuck Schumer, another member of the old guard, as Senate Minority Leader, that doesn’t appear to have fully sunk in yet.
Perhaps one way they could turn their fortunes and start winning more elections is to become a political party that, for once, aspires to be the adult in the room, that stands on principle while choosing its battles wisely and thoughtfully, and that seeks to end the polarization and hypocrisy more and more Americans have grown fed up with.
If they decide to fight Gorsuch tooth and nail out of spite, they risk further marginalization that could take years to dig their way out of.
Scott Thompson is editor of the Barrow News-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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