You know, if every day is going to set off multiple political ethics controversies, I’m not going to have time to write about lobster hats.
Last night, President Trump selected Colorado federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee.
A. The Choice
Except for those who literally are determined to freak out and condemn anything President Trump does, this was a competent, responsible choice. He would be one of the best of the available choices for any Republican President, more qualified than Obama’s snubbed selection, Merrick Garland, to fill the same vacancy, and Garland was certainly qualified. It’s ridiculous that Gorsuch is one more Harvard grad on a Court that is exclusively Harvard and Yale, but that aside, he adds some diversity of outlook by being from the middle of the country rather than the coasts. He writes clearly, unlike, say, Justice Kennedy, and is not a pure political ideologue, like Ginsberg or Alito.
Before the Democrats’ rejection of Robert Bork shattered the tradition of allowing every President the privilege of having his SCOTUS nominations approved absent real questions about their competence or honesty, a nomination like this one would have garnered bipartisan praise. Trump made a responsible, competent, choice. Really. He did.
B. The Announcement
Turning the announcement into a TV production was unseemly and gross, but fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly. This is how Trump rolls, and all we can do is hope that his undignified proclivities are quickly abandoned by whoever his successors are. If Trump’s critics are going to go nuclear over relative trivia, nobody will be listening when there is something important to criticize. Many believe this is a deliberate strategy by Trump that Democrats and progressives are falling for like lemmings going over a cliff.
Treating the nomination of a Supreme Court justice like the climax of a Miss Universe pageant, however, was more than gross; it was unfair and misleading. Trump announced via Twitter that he had made his decision, then his staff let it be known that two possible choices were on their way to Washington, D.C.: Gorsuch and Judge Thomas Hardiman. If the President’s tweet was correct, then he was making one of the judges come to D.C. to be rejected and embarrassed. If he really hadn’t made up his mind, then the tweet was a lie.
“He likes a contest,” one source close to the process told the Washington Post. Gee, why didn’t he make the judges wear bathing suits, too?
Apparently, despite contradictory reports, Hardiman wasn’t as mistreated as was original reports suggested. Earlier in the day, sources told CNN that both finalists were being brought to Washington ahead of the live TV announcement, but in fact Hardiman never got to D.C., only getting a few hours east of Pittsburgh by car. Was Judge Hardiman in on the plan to increase suspense and boost the ratings of the SCOTUS Nomination Reality Show? Did Trump promise him that he would be the nominee when the next vacancy opened up? I don’t know, but this is gratuitous abuse of the power of the President. I would have more respect for a judge who refused to participate in such demeaning nonsense, and told the President, “You know what? My self-respect is worth more than your damn nomination. Find someone who’s willing to grovel for it; I’m not.”
C. The Reaction.
Such an excellent nomination presented an opportunity for Democrats to repair the broken SCOTUS nomination process, take the high road, and begin the long journey back to a functioning system. Nah. Better to be petty and prepare for eight years of perpetual warfare. Tit for Tat is the order of the day; revenge, scorched earth stuff. Great.
Never mind that Gorsuch is a fine judge with better credentials than more than half of the current court. The New York Times quickly condemned him as a suitor for a “stolen seat.” Nancy Pelosi, who is the walking, talking embodiment of toxic and mindless partisanship, called this “a very hostile appointment” and “a very bad decision, well outside the mainstream of American legal thought.” That assessment is either ignorant, a lie, or the result of a delusion that all conservative thought is “outside the mainstream.” In truth, Gorusuch is the best case scenario for progressives. Gorsuch should halt the hysteria about Roe v. Wade or Obergefell (same sex marriage) being overturned. Like most good judges, he believes in judicial restraint and stare decisus, which means that he believes that SCOTUS cases should be respected and adhered to once they are decided, and not overturned absent extreme circumstances. His appointment makes Roe and Obergefell safer not more imperiled. Let’s see how many reporters and activists are honest about that.
Indeed, to anyone paying attention, the pick is really a breach of Trump’s promise to “appoint justices who will overturn Roe v.Wade“, which was a fantasy anyway. I assume, and maybe he does too, that the bulk of his unsophisticated supporters believe that “conservative” means “will try to overturn Roe,” and thus the pick will make them happy enough. Nonetheless, most analysts believe that Gorsuch is very unlikely to want to overturn such settled law.
The fact that a terrible political maneuver by the Republicans in blocking Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to replace Justice Scalia worked out better for them than anyone’s wildest dreams does not make the seat “stolen,” and the Times using such an inflammatory description shows how far the paper has gone in abandoning ethical journalism for partisan advocacy. Now Senate Democrats have announced that they will filibuster the nomination of this distinguished and qualified judge, and will do so with any Trump appointment other than Merrick Garland, as if that’s going to happen. This can only be interpreted as party-wide determination to appeal to the far-gone extremes of its base, and to abandon any intention of trying to work productively with Trump…even when his goals are within reasonable bounds.
Madness. This is not in the best interests of the nation or the Democratic Party, and continues the headlong rush into chaos and hypocrisy the entire political Left has adopted as its plan of action since Trump was elected. All this is likely to accomplish is to alienate more moderates and drive them to Trump, further divide the nation and cripple the political process, while only ensuring that Gorsuch’s confirmation will be ugly. It isn’t going to stop him from being on the Court.
Ah, but it will feel good to strike back at the GOP for blocking Obama’s pick, futile though it will be. This is playground ethics, not statesmanship.