Signature significance, in the context of ethics, is when a single example of conduct or a single episode is sufficient to make a definitive judgment about the ethical values of an individual or an organization. It is something so striking and blatant that the usually valid statistical argument that one data point is meaningless doesn’t hold true. Ethics Alarms refers to signature significance frequently.
The Democratic Party’s behavior regarding the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch is signature significance. It won’t work. It will result in permanent harm to the Senate, harm that will initially most affect Democrats. It is hypocritical, irresponsible, and embarrassing, at least if the party is considering citizens who understand what is going on, admittedly a minority. It is unprofessional. It is dishonest. It is unpatriotic. The conduct is so obviously irresponsible that it is difficult to believe that Democratic leaders don’t realize it. Because it is all these things, the strategy is also very close to insane.
I just watched Senator Grassley’s address to the Judiciary Committee, ticking off l the reasons why the inflammatory Democratic rhetoric regarding Judge Gorsuch ranged from untrue to self-contradictory to ludicrous. He wasn’t exaggerating; it wasn’t a partisan speech. Grassley reminded the committee that Gorsuch had been unanimously confirmed when he was nominated to the 10th Circuit. The Senator correctly explained why the recent mantra that Gorsuch wasn’t “mainstream” was counter-factual, since he has voted with the majority on that court over 90% of the time.
Grassley dismissed as offensive and judicially ignorant (my words, not his; Chuck was appropriately mild in his word choices) the argument that Gorsuch lacked compassion and wouldn’t rule “for the little guy.” Competent and ethical judges—unlike, say, Justice Sotomayor—don’t change their decisions according to which litigant is “big,” “little,” rich, poor, black or white. Their job, duty and role is to clarify what the law is. It is only part of the current progressive delusions, most recently shown in the rulings against the Trump travel halt from terrorist-teeming Muslim nations, that judges should base their analysis on their personal and political biases, when those biases are the “right” ones.
Senator Grassley then moved to the complaint that Gorsuch “refused to answer questions.” “What this means is that the judge wouldn’t say in advance how he would rule on cases that hadn’t come before him yet,” the Senator said. Of course he is exactly right. No judicial nominee has been willing to answer such question since the Democrats politicized the confirmation process forever by voting down Reagan appointee Robert Bork, despite the judge being as qualified and brilliant a jurist as anyone nominated to sit on the Court. No judge should have answered such questions before that, either. Cases are decided on the law and the facts. A justice who has made up his or her mind before even reading the briefs or hearing oral arguments is not judging fairly or competently.
Finally, Grassley pointed out that no Supreme Court nominee has ever faced a filibuster or the threat of one. For Gorsuch to be filibustered by Democrats, despite being assessed by almost every legal expert and commentator as unusually distinguished and qualified (including the left-leaning American Bar Association, which has found conservative judges less than qualified in the past because they were…conservative), is indefensible on the merits.
The Democratic rebuttal was as damning to Democrats as Grassley’s indictment. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) immediately cited as the first and foremost justification for why her party was opposing Gorsuch the fact that the Republicans successfully blocked Merrick Garland, the moderately liberal, distinguished, qualified federal judge Barack Obama nominated to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Senate Republicans refused to even allow his nomination to come to a vote. In other words, Democratic opposition to Gorsuch has nothing to do with Gorsuch or his qualifications. It is payback, tit for tat, and “Take that!” It is also worthy of enshrinement in the “Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right Hall of Fame.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision not give Garland a hearing was a hyperpartisan, desperate, unprecedented, Machiavellian and stupid ploy–stupid, because it seemed like it couldn’t possibly work (Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton? HAHAHAHAHA!) and because the new Democratic President was a good bet to appoint a far more extreme liberal justice. The tactic was not illegal or unconstitutional, however: just unethical. Democrats and their media allies have worked themselves into a frenzy by characterizing the episode as the GOP “stealing” a Supreme Court seat, using the rhetoric of crime. They have adopted this rhetoric even though they know that their ignorant deep blue supporters will take them literally.
Unlike McConnell’s Hail Mary trick, the threatened Democratic filibuster can not work, and the Democrats know it. Thanks to the former Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid changing the Senate rules to prevent Republicans from filibustering Obama’s lower court judicial nominations ( a cynical and short-sighted move that will now allow Donald Trump to load the federal judiciary with over a hundred conservative judges unimpeded), a precedent was set. McConnell has made it clear that he has the votes to ban filibusters of Supreme Court nominations too, and will use them, if Democrats persist.
Yet the Democrats, unless they are bluffing, appear to be defiant. First, they are loudly opposing a good judge. Unethical. Second, they are lying to justify the opposition. Unethical. Third, they are emulating and escalating the conduct they accused Republicans of following for the past eight years. Hypocritical. Fourth, they are triggering a rule that will weaken the Senate, remove an important fail-safe device, and will initially most harm their own party. Incompetent and stupid. Fifth, they are employing the rationalizations Tit for Tat and Sicilian Ethics, and sixth, their grandstanding is doomed to failure. REALLY stupid.
See: “The March of Folly,” the Charge of the Light Brigade.
This is signature significance because no responsible, rational party behaves this way. Statesmen ( Stateswomen? Statespersons?) never behave this way. Elected officials interested in governing don’t act this way. Trustworthy political parties don’t act this way.
Why are thy acting this way, then, other than the fact that the Democrats are currently irresponsible, unstatesmanlike, and untrustworthy?
The Democratic Party has made a decision that its core supporters would rather have it throw a tantrum and embarrass itself than act like a responsible governing entity. The party leaders aren’t leading, but following, and following the most deplorable, anti-American, un-Democratic instincts of their angry base.
Related: Another example is described here.
UPDATE 1: More details, history and perspective from the Washington Post, here.
UPDATE 2: If you can risk having your head explode, read Newsbusters’ account of CNN’s reporting on this issue. Nah, there’s no bias at CNN. And notice the acceptance of the rationale that Democrats should oppose Gorsuch because “they’re mad” and because their base wants them to.