The presidential nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court are as defining for the sitting president as they are for the nominee.
This evening’s announcement by President Donald Trump to nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch, who serves in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, is both a profound political statement to assauge “constitutionalists” and a new topic and direction to measure Trump’s first 10 days in office.
In introducing Gorsuch, Trump referenced that this nomination was only follow-through on a promise to choose a worthy replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Gorsuch referred to as a “lion.” Make no mistake that millions voted for Trump so he would nominate someone like Gorsuch –– wresting that decision away from his opponent Hillary Clinton.
Hailing from Colorado with deep knowledge of the West, one could speculate Gorsuch, if confirmed, would bring a deeper understanding of our region to the court. Time will tell. What’s next?
Within an hour of the announcement Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., was hosting a Town Hall and calling Gorsuch “a hostile appointment” during a CNN interview. Pundits were speculating whether Senate Democrats would snub Gorsuch as Senate Republicans had snubbed former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
What things ought to be considered –– and avoided –– by the Senate so Americans can end up with a high court judge who can serve them and not politics? We asked Judge Stephen S. Trott, who seves from Boise on the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, to set the stage. Following is his statement sent via email:
We may be about to witness our national government at its worst. Instead of evaluating Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch on the basis of his qualifications for the daunting task of interpreting and applying the principles in our Constitution, Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon and other Democrats have promised a partisan “payback filibuster” against any nominee proposed by President Trump. Why? Because last year the Republicans blocked President Obama’s nominee, Garland. The Republicans would not even give Judge Garland a hearing simply because he was President Obama’s choice. Here we go again. The antagonistic partisan battle continues. The Democrats are already boycotting confirmation hearings for the President’s choices for his cabinet. When will it stop?
President Trump was wrong to say that he would not nominate anyone who favors Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to an abortion. Justices must set aside any personal views they have on consequential issues such as abortion, gay rights, gun control, and affirmative action. Justices must rule based on the Will of the People and the principles in the Constitution, not their own view of what’s right and what’s wrong. We judges must leave our own policy views behind when we don our black robes. Judges violate their oaths and obligations when they rule based solely on personal beliefs. If they so rule, their judgments are not law, just illegitimate pronouncements.
So, what should we examine when we evaluate a Supreme Court Justice? How about character, integrity, intellectual capacity, temperament, freedom from bias, decisiveness, analytical and writing ability, knowledge of the law, impartiality, and judicial philosophy –– certainly not who nominated him. With Circuit Court Judge Gorsuch, we have plenty to scrutinize. Circuit Court Judges write dozens of opinions on the same subjects and issues that eventually get to the Supreme Court. We can have a good idea of what kind of Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch will be based on how he has performed on the Circuit Court of Appeals.
Finally, do not be surprised when someone asks him how he will rule on abortion or gay rights or gun rights. He will respectfully decline to answer. Would you want to take your case before a Justice who has already publicly told everybody what the result will be? First the trial, then the verdict –– not the other way around.
Tune in. Who sits on our Supreme Court is as important as who we elect as President. Let’s hope all the Senators rise above political party and vote based on the merits. Is that too much to ask? Isn’t that how our democratic system is suppose to work?