Looking To Fill The “Stolen Seat”

Last night President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill the vacant seat on the United States Supreme Court.  His formal nomination triggers the start of what will undoubtedly be a bruising confirmation process, with some Democrats already promising to do everything they can to prevent seating Gorsuch on the high court.

US-POLITICS-COURT-NOMINATIONThere are three reasons for this.  First, the Supreme Court has assumed an increasingly important role in the American political process over the last 70 years, with people at all points on the political spectrum looking for the judiciary to recognize a new right, provide a remedy, issue an injunction, or overturn a statute or executive action.  The Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch, and every year, the Court accepts and decides cases that require it to tackle difficult issues — some constitutional, some statutory, some procedural — that can have broad ramifications for people, businesses, the legal system, and how government works.

Second, as the importance of the Supreme Court has increased, the process for nominating, reviewing, and approving potential Supreme Court justices has changed.  Republicans blame Democrats for the growing politicization of the Supreme Court confirmation process, and Democrats blame Republicans, but no one doubts that we have moved into a new era of “extreme vetting.”  Nominees not only have their credentials, backgrounds, and prior opinions scrutinized for the tiniest kernel of a potential argument against nomination, but advocacy groups immediately declare sides and start their scorched-earth campaigns before the nomination speech is even completed.  Last night, only a few minutes after Gorsuch was nominated by President Trump, an anti-confirmation demonstration began on the Supreme Court steps, and opponents of the Gorsuch nomination appeared on the cable news shows, describing him in the darkest, most ominous terms imaginable.

And third, the atmosphere has become even more poisonous because the seat on the Supreme Court Gorsuch has been nominated to fill has been vacant for almost a full year, and the Republicans in the Senate refused to take any action on Merrick Garland, the jurist that President Obama nominated to fill that seat.  That’s why the New York Times, in an editorial today, calls the vacancy the “stolen seat” — reasoning that if the Senate had just acted properly last year, Garland would have been confirmed, and the balance of power on the Supreme Court would already be changed.  The Times editorial castigates the Senate Republicans for obstructionism and abuse of power in their treatment of the Garland nomination, but seems to also implicitly encourage — with a wink and a nod — Senate Democrats to respond to the Gorsuch nomination in kind.

So now we’ve got a Supreme Court nominee who has served on the federal appellate bench for 10 years, has all of the educational bona fides you would wish, and is classified by some as a “very conservative” judge.  I’m interested in seeing how the confirmation process plays out and what is brought out about Gorsuch’s background and judicial opinions — but that means the confirmation process has to actually start.  Here, too, as in other areas I’ve pointed out recently, Congress needs to do its job.  The Republicans need to shut up about the “nuclear option” that Harry Reid unwisely imposed, and the Democrats need to get over the Garland nomination inaction, and both sides need to acknowledge that the Supreme Court has nine seats that can only be filled if the Senate acts and start to address the Gorsuch nomination on its own merits.

One other thing:  as the current Supreme Court justices age, delay and inaction is not an option.  If we don’t get over this self-imposed roadblock to the proper functioning of our government, we might soon have another vacancy to fill, and another.  If the Republicans and Democrats don’t get over their political titting for tatting, we might end up with a gradually vanishing Supreme Court.

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A Primary Lesson

The House Majority Leader, Republican Eric Cantor of Virginia, lost in a primary election yesterday.  He was soundly defeated by David Brat, a conservative economics professor who was supported by elements of the “tea party.”

The result astonished the inside-the-beltway world of Washington, D.C., where Cantor was a fixture on the Sunday morning talk shows and was seen as a rising figure, a strategist and power broker, and potentially a future Speaker of the House.  Analysts are scrambling to explain how Cantor, who was expected to win handily, could be defeated by a political unknown.  The issue of illegal Immigration apparently played a large role in the campaign, and some have suggested that Cantor had lost touch with his district and, with his growing national profile, may have been perceived as too big for his britches.

I’ll leave the analysis to the punditry, and will make only two observations.  First, Brat was grossly outspent by Cantor’s campaign.  The first New York Times article linked above says Brat spent a little more than $200,000, whereas Cantor raised $5.4 million.  In short, all of the horror stories we’ve been hearing about the overwhelming power of national money in politics were disproved in this instance, where Brat’s low-money campaign, based on local and state supporters, nevertheless energized the voters.  The next time you get a money appeal from a candidate of the right or left who says he needs to keep up in the fundraising race with his opponent, you might remind them of the Cantor-Brat campaign — and then ask them where they stand on issues of interest to you.

Second, I think it is a good thing when established politicians are challenged and made to defend their positions.  We would all be better off if our elected representatives were thinking more about staying connected with the people in their district or state and less about hobnobbing with the D.C. political and media elite.  I’d love to see more Senators and Representatives who have served for years without serious contest have to return home, face a spunky challenger who isn’t intimidated by a lopsided fundraising advantage, and explain their records.  That’s exactly how our political system is supposed to work.

When Even The House Stenographer Loses It . . . .

An odd thing happened on Capitol Hill Wednesday night.  No, it’s not that Congress actually passed, and President Obama actually signed, a bill to increase the debt ceiling and reopen the government.  It’s that a House of Representatives stenographer seized the microphone to briefly rant about government and God before being forcibly escorted from the House floor.

During the diatribe, the stenographer shouted that “the House is divided.”  According to the linked article, she also said “He will not be mocked,” and added:  “The greatest deception here is this is not one nation under God. It never was. Had it been, it would not have been. The Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons.”  The stenographer and her husband, who were interviewed, said she had had trouble sleeping during the last two weeks and felt moved by “the Holy Spirit” to make her statement.  Now that she has done so, she feels a tremendous sense of relief.

What does it tell you when even a House of Representatives stenographer, trained to sit there day after legislative day, taking down the political statements of Republicans and Democrats alike, finally can’t take it any more?  Or, if the Holy Spirit really was involved, that even the Holy Spirit can’t endure any more mindless blathering without engaging in a verbal outburst about Freemasons?

If I were in the Senate, I think I’d check in with the Senate stenographers, who probably are also teetering on the brink.  And President Obama’s staff might do well to touch base with the White House photographer, too.  Apparently we’re asking them all to endure the unendurable.