Last Friday, the Senate confirmed the most qualified nominee of our generation to the Supreme Court. But in the process, the Senate shredded any remnants of decency and process it had left.
The Senate began hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch on March 20, but Democrats decided to filibuster his nomination. Then, last Thursday, the Republicans pulled the “nuclear option,” changing Senate rules to allow a simple majority to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. The Senate swiftly confirmed Gorsuch the following day.
Make no mistake, Gorsuch deserves the seat. He represents everything great about the American judicial system. His qualifications are impeccable. He graduated from Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford, with Truman and Marshall scholarships along the way. He’s worked hard his whole life for what he’s gotten.
And contrary to the Democrats’ attempts to politicize him, Gorsuch understands a judge’s job. In a speech on the legacy of the late associate justice Antonin Scalia, he said, “judges should be in the business of declaring what the law is using the traditional tools of interpretation, rather than pronouncing the law as they might wish it to be in light of their own political views.”
That impartiality won Gorsuch unanimous confirmation to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals from the Senate in 2006 — including from Sens. Obama, Clinton, Biden, Schumer, Leahy, and others. His record boasts hundreds of opinions which brought together judges from the left and the right on the 10th Circuit. And none of his opinions before the Supreme Court were ever struck down — not an easy record to politicize, but many tried.
Gorsuch is remarkably even-keeled, especially for a follower of the sometimes caustic Scalia. He’s got the temperament, credentials, and experience of a Supreme Court justice — what more could the people ask for?
Merrick Garland, if you’re a Democrat. Last year the Republican majority in the Senate blocked Garland from both a confirmation hearings and a vote — a historically unprecedented step. It marked the first time the Senate blocked a Supreme Court nominee entirely from consideration. Though the Republicans protested that an outgoing president shouldn’t be allowed to make a nomination, Obama had eleven months left in his term — hardly a lame duck.
Democrats threw a fit, and not without cause. The Republicans blocked a Supreme Court nominee on explicitly political grounds, laying the precedent for the Democrats’ own actions in 2017.
Garland was a poor hill for Republicans to die on. They had a clear majority, and that’s all a Supreme Court nomination needs. Garland never would have made it past committee. But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party decided to stick it out for the rest of the year, citing trumped-up precedents like “the Biden rule.”
More than a poor political move, it was a poor gamble. True, it paid off in the end. But if Hillary Clinton had won, she would have nominated a judge much more liberal than the moderate Garland — let alone Gorsuch.
In any case, the merits of the Republicans’ case for blacklisting Garland are debateable. But Democrats’ opposition to Gorsuch is indefensible. If they truly believed that a majority in the Senate could not block a candidate, then how could a minority block a candidate?
If Gorsuch had real flaws, the Democrats would have had a case. But he didn’t. Their opposition was pure theater, and they knew it. They did what the Republicans had done a year before, but worse.
Instead of realizing two wrongs don’t make a right, they drove the Senate into the ground. Once a place of civility and deliberation — sometimes — the Senate has stripped its own powers. Starting with former Senate majority leader Harry Reid in 2013 and continuing with minority leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell today, the body has abandoned its former distinction. And that’s something to be mourned.
Judge Gorsuch is an impeccable jurist, and his confirmation is cause for rejoicing. But the proceedings last week represent the bottoming out of a long decline in the American legislative process, thanks to the tactics of both sides in the Senate.
Mr. Weinrich is a junior George Washington Fellow studying politics.