IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump taps Gorsuch for Supreme Court, initiating historic fight

As the Gorsuch nomination goes forward, the question facing the Senate: are we all supposed to pretend 2016 didn't happen?
Supreme Court nominations don't come along very often -- lately, high-court vacancies arise about once per presidential term -- and last night's was unique for all sorts of reasons, so let's dig in with a Q&A.So, who'd Trump pick?Federal Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, a 49-year-old conservative appointed to the 10th Circuit by George W. Bush.Does this come as a surprise?No. During the campaign, Team Trump unveiled a list of possible nominees, and while Gorsuch wasn't on the original list, the Republican eventually unveiled the names of a larger group of potential justices, and Gorsuch was included. The only surprise here is that Gorsuch is a fairly conventional nominee: while many of Trump's personnel choices have been odd, if not ridiculous, it's easy to imagine any Republican president picking Gorsuch.How conservative is he?Slate described him as "Scalia with a smile," which sounds about right. A New York Times analysis of Gorsuch's record found that he'd be to the right of Justice Samuel Alito, but not quite as conservative as Justice Clarence Thomas. The key difference between Gorsuch and former Justice Antonin Scalia is temperament: while Scalia was overtly, almost comically, partisan, Gorsuch has a reputation for being more reserved.Did Trump make a compelling case on Gorsuch's behalf?Partly. The president's description of Gorsuch's impressive background was accurate, but Trump also said he "publicly presented a list of brilliant and accomplished people to the American electorate and pledged to make my choice from among that list," adding, "Millions of voters said this was the single most important issue to them when they voted for me for president."The trouble, of course, is that when Americans were given a choice between the candidates, Trump came in second. It's tough to claim a mandate now.Can this be characterized as a compromise choice?No. When President Obama nominated Merrick Garland last year, the White House was making a conscious and deliberate effort to choose a moderate jurist with broad support. Indeed, some Senate Republicans specifically called for Garland's nomination.With Gorsuch, Trump has gone in the opposite direction, choosing a very conservative judge without regard for whether Democrats might be inclined to support him or not.Why was the announcement made last night?I'm generally skeptical of claims that every strange Trump move is intended to distract from some other Trump controversy, but the White House intended to wait to make this announcement until after Jeff Sessions' confirmation vote. The president himself told the public the nomination would be announced on Thursday (tomorrow).They moved up the date because they wanted to change the subject away from Trump's Muslim ban.Last night, Trump said he personally "studied" each of the nominees' writings "closely." Is that true?Please.What are Senate Democrats going to do next?The Democratic leadership has already said Gorsuch will need 60 votes to advance. There are 52 Senate Republicans.Has a filibuster ever blocked a Supreme Court nominee before?Yes, but it's been a while. We haven't seen a filibuster succeed against a Supreme Court nominee since 1968.Will this work against Gorsuch?It's a little too soon to tell. It's possible Senate Democrats won't stick together and the GOP majority will get to 60 votes for Gorsuch with bipartisan backing. If Dems stick together, it's also possible Republicans will execute their own "nuclear option," permanently end high-court filibusters, and all judicial nominees will face up-or-down votes by majority-rule forevermore.How strong is the Democratic case against Gorsuch?The judge's record is just starting to come into focus -- his Hobby Lobby ruling is likely to be his most controversial -- but the Democratic push is largely focused, at least for now, on the political circumstances. It's similar, in many ways, to last year: when Obama nominated Garland, Republicans effectively said, "The fight isn't about this particular nominee; it's about blocking any nominee from a Democratic White House for raw, partisan reasons."Similarly, in response to last night's announcement, Democrats are effectively saying, "The fight isn't about this particular nominee; it's about responding to Republican abuses that led to a stolen Supreme Court seat."The key question, in other words, is relatively straightforward: Are we all supposed to pretend 2016 didn't happen?As part of a scandalous display of obstructionism, without precedent in the American tradition, Republicans blocked a qualified, compromise nominee because the president was a Democrat. As part of the gambit, GOP senators made up rules that didn't exist, they lied about rules that did exist, and when they assumed Americans would never actually elect Donald Trump to the presidency, they said they were prepared to leave the court's vacancy in place until 2021 -- at the earliest.A month into 2017, those same Republicans now insist it's time to play the game by the standard rules -- now that the people who set fire to the rule book are satisfied with their handiwork. Their expectation is plainly ridiculous.A president burdened by questions about his legitimacy is trying to address a court vacancy that, by any fair measure, shouldn't be his to fill.The New York Times' David Leonhardt's assessment rings true: "Democrats should not weigh this nomination the same way that they've weighed previous ones. This one is different. The presumption should be that Gorsuch does not deserve confirmation, because the process that led to his nomination was illegitimate."