Donald Trump promised his Supreme Court picks would be cast in the mold of Antonin Scalia, and he delivered, according to legal experts.
He also delivered a blow to liberals and centrists who had hoped that Trump would make an ideologically neutral choice.
Trump announced this evening that he’d chosen Judge Neil Gorsuch, 49, of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado. According to initial reports, the Trump administration believes he has a sterling legal reputation that will make it harder for Senate Democrats to mount a filibuster to block him, as many have promised they would.
Democrats are angry because Republicans blocked Barack Obama’s pick for the court, Merrick Garland, from even receiving a hearing. Like Gorsuch, Garland has an impeccable reputation among legal scholars.
But Republicans left the court short of a judge for an entire year in the hope that they’d win the presidency and have the chance to pick a conservative judge to maintain the court’s rightward tilt.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Garland is a centrist, but Gorsuch follows a strict or originalist approach to interpreting the Constitution, just as Scalia did. According to that philosophy, the Constitution is a document that is frozen in the time it was written. Originalists take the same approach to the Constitution that religious fundamentalists take to the Bible. They fail to allow for the many changes in society that have occurred since the document was first drafted in 1787.
Immediately following Trump’s choice, the Democratic National Committee released a statement noting that Gorsuch has “a legal history that shows a deep sympathy for corporate interests and an apparent disdain for workers.”
“As an attorney, Judge Gorsuch routinely represented big businesses in class action lawsuits,” the statement said. “He upheld a decision that denied long-term insurance benefits to a worker who sustained a work-related injury that required spinal surgery. He even dissented from a ruling in favor of a truck driver whose employer illegally fired him for abandoning a trailer with locked brakes — so he wouldn’t freeze to death.”
Sen. Tammy Baldwin issued a statement blasting Gorsuch as too far out of the mainstream.
“With this Supreme Court nomination, President Trump has made it clear he has no interest in being a president for all Americans and that he is intent on creating more division in our country,” she said. “Instead of putting forward a mainstream nominee for the vacant Supreme Court seat, he has offered someone who will have a hard time earning bipartisan support.”
Gorsuch’s rulings have revealed him to be a jurist who opposes government interference in American life, particularly in matters such as regulation and religion. For instance, he sided in favor of “religious freedom” in the imprtant Hobby Lobby case, ruling that the retail chain’s “Christian” values allowed them to ignore the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that they pay for contraceptive coverage for their employees, according to National Public Radio.
That sort of mindset will be of grave concern to LGBT citizens at a time when far-right lawmakers are pushing so-called “religious freedom” bills that permit discrimination in the name of religious beliefs.
Although Gorsuch’s views on a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy are scant, he published a book in 2006 titled The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. The book defended the “intrinsic value” of human life in arguing against the practice.
Trump had promised to select anti-choice judges, although the most fervent opponents of reproductive freedom might find his scant (as far as we now know) judicial record in this area alarming.
On their part, advocates of choice are extremely alarmed at Trump’s choice.
“A justice who does not understand what it is like to face an unintended pregnancy, or what it is like to lose an intended pregnancy, threatens the health and safety of women across this country. We should not accept a nominee who believes that the state can place medically unnecessary barriers in the path of women seeking access to safe, legal abortion services,” said Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in a prepared statement.
For Republicans to survive a filibuster of Gorsuch’s nomination, they’d need eight Democrats to join them in order to get the 60 votes needed. At least one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has said he would not join a filibuster.
But Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon circulated a petition yesterday urging his colleagues to block any Trump nominee due to the way Republicans ignored Garland.
“This is a stolen seat. This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat,” Merkley told Politico. “We will use every lever in our power to stop this.”