After hours of speeches from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — some more insightful than others but all long-winded and unnecessary — Judge Neil Gorsuch delivered a humble, folksy opening statement at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. “Ours is a judiciary of honest black polyester,” he said, making the point that judges are not the leading lights in a democracy but rather occupy a “modest station.” His plain-spoken remarks and humility provided a stark contrast to the senators’ self-indulgent pontificating.
The first day of the hearing entirely lacked drama. Democrats expressed outrage over the treatment of Judge Merrick Garland, who never received a hearing, while promising to give Gorsuch a courtesy Garland was denied. Democrats recognized that Gorsuch was only there because of a daring political gambit orchestrated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who refused Garland a hearing. The obvious retort, however, hung over the hearing: So what if Garland got a raw deal? After all, Gorsuch had nothing to do with it, and even if they mustered enough votes for a filibuster Democrats would face another GOP nominated judge. And then another.
Democrats made one point worthy of consideration. Gorsuch was put on a list of potential judges by conservative legal gurus at the Federalist Society and/or Heritage Foundation. Because they in essence helped him get the job, Gorsuch should not consider any amicus briefs, lawsuits or arguments from members of these groups. To do otherwise would be to create a conflict of interest.
Democrats understand all too well the position they are in. Elections do have consequences and in this case, so long as the GOP holds the White House and Senate, that means the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat and any others that come open will in all likelihood be filled by a “conservative” nominee. In the case of Gorsuch, they at least have an eminently qualified, temperamentally impressive individual who has drawn the support of both liberal and conservative judicial colleagues.
You can understand why the hearing was anti-climactic and, at times, dull. Ironically, both because drama was absent and any question about his ultimate confirmation virtually eliminated, the hearing was overshadowed by the simultaneous, gobsmacking House Intelligence Committee hearing. Over there, FBI Director James B. Comey confirmed the existence of a real-live investigation into possible collusion between the president’s campaign team and Russian officials and likewise confirmed that President Trump’s pathetic attempt to distract attention by accusing his predecessor of wiretapping is factually unsupported.
In other words, Trump managed to overshadow arguably the strongest move of his presidency — the nomination of Gorsuch — with a House hearing necessitated by his impulsive, delusional tweeting. Perfectly encapsulating Trump’s ability to knock himself out cold with an errant counterpunch, Monday’s events reminded us how Trump remains his own worst enemy and an ongoing headache for his own party. As delighted as Republicans may be with the Gorsuch nomination, Trump brings enough baggage and stirs enough trouble to leave the party at risk of accomplishing very little other than Gorsuch’s confirmation. It should also remind them that if Trump were to leave or be removed, handing the presidency to the very conservative Vice President Pence, they and the country would continue to receive conservative judicial nominees without the constant cloud of controversy, turmoil and scandal that hovers over Trump. Perhaps that will come about before the 2020 election.