Hold a hearing. Vet the nominee. Take a vote.
Senate Democrats should be wary of trying to block the confirmation of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, as political payback even before the vetting process begins.
Without a doubt, Republicans in the Senate stole this seat on the Court, refusing for almost a year to do their duty and consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Judge Garland was superbly qualified and should be on the court today.
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But there’s a good argument that Republicans, who hold a majority in the Senate, would simply do away with the right to filibuster if Democrats resorted to that tactic to block Gorsuch’s confirmation. The GOP then would confirm Gorsuch by a simple majority of 51 votes instead of 60. And what then? It is scary to even contemplate what kind half-baked nominee Trump might put up to fill the next seat that opened up on the Court, knowing he would need only a simple Senate majority to get his way.
This is not a strategy for Senate Democrats to give up the fight, but to do their job in a way their GOP colleagues never did. Put Gorsuch on the hot seat while keeping an open mind. Grill him on his originalist judicial philosophy, his views on the separation of powers in federal government, his views on abortion and Roe v. Wade, and a host of other issues.
For that matter, we’d love to know what Gorsuch thinks about Trump’s executive order banning people from seven largely Muslim countries from entry into the United States. The order is arguably unconstitutional in several ways, beginning with the exception carved out for people who are members of a non-majority religion. Who are, that is to say, Christian.
On this issue and others, Gorsuch could prove an obstacle to the most un-American parts of Trump’s agenda — or so we can hope. Gorsuch is a staunchly conservative justice in the Antonin Scalia mold. That puts him well within the Republican mainstream but does not make him an entirely safe bet for Trump.
Gorsuch is widely respected in legal circles, across the political spectrum, as a serious scholar committed to the rule of law. Trump, on the other hand, has show himself to be a man and a president who cares little about the law or the Constitution. He cares about winning.
We predict this judge and this president will never be soulmates.
It’s worth noting that Gorsuch already has signaled skepticism about the broadness of presidential power. In a 2016 opinion, he argued that the courts should not defer to federal agencies, which are extensions of the executive branch, when it comes to interpreting vague and ambiguous laws. That’s a view of bureaucratic rule-making that could create headaches for Trump-appointed agency heads.
Judge Gorsuch deserves the full and honest confirmation hearing that Judge Garland never got. Let’s hear what he has to say.
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