Trump Announces Supreme Court Nominee
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Tuesday night, President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, to sit on the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Gorsuch would fill former Justice Scalia’s seat, which has been empty since his death in February of last year. Judge Gorsuch is known as a staunch conservative and constitutional literalist; in the coming months there will likely be an intense, partisan battle between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate over his confirmation.
According to CNN, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley plans to have confirmation hearings starting in about six weeks. Gorsuch is widely supported among Congressional Republicans, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressing his desire for a speedy confirmation following Trump’s announcement. “I hope members of the Senate will again show him fair consideration and respect the result of the recent election with an up-or-down vote on his nomination, just like the Senate treated the four first-term nominees of Presidents Clinton and Obama,” said McConnell.
In the announcement ceremony, Trump hailed his nominee as a man who could “ensure the rule of law and the rule of justice”, claiming “Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline and has earned bipartisan support.” Although it is not yet clear how much support Trump’s nominee will receive from the left, in nominating Gorsuch Trump all but secured the support of his own party. Trump’s nomination answered calls by many conservative groups and leaders to nominate someone with a long record of conservatism, to avoid the disappointment conservatives suffered after Justice Souter ascended to the bench.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has made it clear that the new nominee will be filibustered, and thus must reach the 60 vote cloture in order to be confirmed. It is possible that Congressional Republicans will attempt to use parliamentary attacks on the filibuster to avoid this margin, as 8 Democrats will be needed to supplement the 52 Republicans in the Senate in order to break the filibuster. Schumer also expounded on the need for judicial independence, saying in a statement earlier this week: “Now, more than ever, we need a Supreme Court justice who is independent, eschews ideology, who will preserve our democracy, protect fundamental rights and will stand up to a president who has already shown a willingness to bend the Constitution.”
Should Gorsuch make it through the Senate, he will reestablish the conservative balance on the court, setting Justice Kennedy once again as the swing vote on most cases. This is concerning to many liberals, who worry that an increasingly conservative Supreme Court could hurt affirmative action programs, labor unions, privacy, and reproductive rights. The extreme conservatism of the new nominee is especially unpleasant for Democrats because of the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland earlier this year by President Obama. The unprecedented obstruction by Senate Republicans prevented Garland from being confirmed during the last eleven months of the Obama administration. The huge disparity between the center-left Garland and far-right Gorsuch will affect the balance of power in the judiciary for a generation.
While liberals see this nomination as a stolen seat on the Supreme Court, conservatives like Tom Fitton, the president of the right-leaning group Judicial Watch, see it as a chance for the court to move “away from dangerous and destructive judicial activism.” Both sides will have a chance to put forward these perspectives through the many hours of Senate hearings and testimony that are yet to come. Republicans control the Senate, so it is likely that their nominee will be confirmed; however, the long-term future of the court and this country is anything but set in stone.