With the announcement of a hard right nominee to fill the illegitimately open seat on the Supreme Court, Trump is handing the Democratic Party both an opportunity and a potential time bomb.
Neil Gorsuch may not be quite as extreme as Antonin Scalia, but he's well to the right on the political spectrum. As such, he is in no way a compromise candidate; he's exactly what the Republican Party was hoping for when they blocked the nomination of centrist judge Merrick Garland for an unprecedented 11 months.
Elizabeth Warren agreed with this assessment in her announcement declaring her opposition to Gorsuch.:
For years, powerful interests have executed a full-scale assault on the integrity of our federal judiciary, trying to turn the Supreme Court into one more rigged game that works only for the rich and the powerful. They spent millions to keep this seat open, and Judge Gorsuch is their reward.“
Every day, our new President finds more ways to demonstrate his hostility for our independent judiciary, our civil society, and the rule of law. Now more than ever, America needs Supreme Court justices with a proven record of standing up for the rights of all Americans - civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and all other protections guaranteed by our laws. We don’t need another justice who spends his time looking out for those with money and influence.
“Based on the long and well-established record of Judge Gorsuch, I will oppose his nomination."
Viewed in the context of Republicans stealing a seat, there is no reason the Democrats should do anything other than filibuster Gorsuch while demanding a centrist nominee. Republicans, of course, are outraged at the mere suggestion of a judicial filibuster because, as Rachel Maddow put it Tuesday night after Trump announced his pick, "New Republican rule: Democrats don't get to appoint Supreme Court Justices....Only Republicans presidents are allowed to appoint Supreme Court Justices now."
It's understandable why they think this way since the Court has been reliably conservative for almost 50 years and has allowed their increasingly undemocratic agenda to advance. The idea of having to moderate their own extremism in the face of a Court unsympathetic to their cause is unthinkable.
In light of this absolute dependence on the Court being in their corner, there's a very real possibility that Republicans will do away with the filibuster to ensure they maintain control of the high court. That's part of what makes blocking Gorsuch a danger to the Democrats. Filibustering his SCOTUS pick also gives Donald Trump a specific target to vent his considerable rage at. Currently, he's off-balance, overwhelmed and floundering. Giving him an "enemy" to focus on could help him regain his footing, or at least temporarily create the illusion of not drowning (it won't last for long).
But at the same time, eliminating the filibuster is just as dangerous, if not more so, to Republicans. It's a very unpopular move and will be seen as a partisan power grab by the public. The GOP will pay a penalty for it in the midterms even as the Democrats are lauded by their base for fighting back. An additional bonus is that Trump will fly into a rage if Democrats insist that his massive loss in the popular vote means he must provide a compromise candidate.
On top of that, Trump is already historically unpopular and it's only going to get worse as he erratically lurches from one manufactured crisis to the next, never mind the mind-numbing disaster that will result when he's confronted with his first real crisis. As Trump spirals into the abyss, he's going to drag Republicans with him, turning the steep mountain the Democrats have to climb in 2018 to retake the Senate into a gentle hill. Even if Republicans turn on Trump to save themselves, Trump's angry, dedicated voters will turn on them, also paving the way for a bloodbath in the midterms as the highly activated left swarms to vote their anger.
This leaves open the possibility of a Democratic president and Senate in 2020 with no filibuster to prevent them from filling the coming vacancies of Kennedy, Ginsburg and Breyer. Ginsburg and Breyer won't retire with a lunatic like Trump in the White House (although age-related issues might force their hand) and it's being reported that Kennedy, concerned about his legacy, might not retire if he feels the Court is going to move sharply to the right.
The bottom line is that while Republicans might feel they're entitled to the Supreme Court, they're not. The Democrats have everything to gain and little to lose by demanding a centrist nominee while Republicans stand to lose everything if they overplay their hand by ramming a Justice down the country's throat.
Our job in the coming weeks is to call our Democratic senators and demand they push for a compromise nominee and that they'll have our support as long as they fight tooth and nail to keep the Court from tilting back to the far right.
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