Donald Trump could hardly have done better in his most important decision since becoming president — the nomination of a Supreme Court justice. Neil Gorsuch is highly principled and deeply experienced, and is poised to become the intellectual leader of conservative jurisprudence.
While Democrats are scrambling to paint Gorsuch, a judge with the 10th District Court of Appeals, as a threat to women, the poor and civil liberties, their objections read as if they were prepared in advance to be applied to anyone Trump nominated.
Gorsuch is a masterful pick. His resume and background are beyond challenge: Harvard-, Columbia- and Oxford-educated; clerked for two Supreme Court justices; praised for his temperament and reverence for the law; more than a decade of experience on the federal bench.
He is a legal superstar and Democrats know it. It will be tough to paint this thoughtful Coloradan whose most significant ruling was affirming religious freedom in the Hobby Lobby case as out of the mainstream.
Turning back his appointment on any grounds but pure politics will be impossible. And yet that’s what Democrats hope to do. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer portrays Gorsuch as a dangerous ideologue — a claim nothing in his record supports. Trump certainly could have picked a fire-breathing right wing justice, as many expected. But he didn’t.
Gorsuch is conservative, for sure, and he’s also a respected member of the legal establishment. He is in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat he would be filling. He is an originalist who believes the Founders meant what they wrote in the Constitution, and is deferential to the policy-making authority of the legislative branch.
As he wrote in National Review in 2005: “This overweening addiction to the courtroom as the place to debate social policy is bad for the country and bad for the judiciary.”
Again, there’s no disputing Neil Gorsuch’s qualifications for the court. His resume matches or exceeds that of any sitting justice.
There’s also little question that Gorsuch, 49, will be confirmed by a Senate controlled by Republicans.
The only uncertainty is whether Democrats will force their GOP colleagues to deploy the so-called nuclear option. Democrats would be wise to save that showdown for another day and a future court nominee they may find truly unacceptable.
Democratic senators are understandably hot about the refusal of Republicans to give former President Barack Obama’s nominee, the highly qualified Merrick Garland, a hearing, let alone a vote. The Senate majority bet they’d win the presidential election, and a Republican president would get to the fill the seat.
It was a risky wager, considering Garland was a surprisingly moderate nominee for a Democratic president, and the election was by no means in the bag for the GOP. But they won it, and now Democrats want to get even.
But remember, Republicans cooperated in approving two previous Obama appointees, Elena Kagen and Sonia Sotomayor, who were just as liberal as Gorsuch is conservative.
The time to square accounts will be if a court opening occurs in Trump’s last year in office. Democrats could then rightly claim turnabout is fair play.
Schumer argued passionately Wednesday that the Senate is obliged to keep in place the 60-vote rule for Supreme Court appointments. But his predecessor, former Sen. Harry Reid, set that ship to sail when he tossed out the rule for lower court appointments.
Trump is urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to go nuclear straightaway. McConnell feels strongly about preserving Senate tradition and its role as a deliberative body. He also realizes what Reid should have: once the rules are changed, they’re changed for good, and someday it will be Republicans who have to live with the consequences. But he’ll do it if he has to.
Gorsuch is not the nominee on whom to stake this fight. Schumer should preserve what little power Democrats have left in Washington by making a deal with McConnell to provide the votes necessary for Gorsuch to join the court. Nuclear wars are always best avoided.