Senate Democrats should not filibuster President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch.
For most of the history of the republic, confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices were deliberative affairs that focused primarily on qualifications, not judicial philosophy. It wasn’t until 1987, when then-President Reagan nominated Robert Bork to fill a vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Lewis Powell, that the process devolved into a partisan brawl. In 2011, in recognition of the 24th anniversary of Bork’s defeat in the Senate, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera cited the Bork fight as a profound turning point in our national discourse. “The anger between Democrats and Republicans,” he wrote, “the unwillingness to work together, the profound mistrust — the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.”
Indeed, Bork’s surname has become a verb. According to Merriam-Webster, to “bork” is “to attack or defeat (a nominee or candidate for public office) unfairly through an organized campaign of harsh public criticism or vilification.”
The legacy of that contentious battle has loomed large since the passing of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Former President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland as Scalia’s successor on March 16, 2016. But instead of borking Garland in a traditional sense, Republicans in Congress refused to even hold hearings on the nomination, leaving the high court with only eight members for nearly a full year. This is despite the fact that Garland was eminently qualified for the position and was someone that even Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch called a “fine man” with a moderate record. Yet in the end, Sen. Hatch understandably joined his party in its delaying consideration of the president’s Supreme Court appointment until after the election.
Many Democrats are citing Republican intransigence on the Garland nomination to justify planned obstruction to President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill the Scalia vacancy. That’s not unexpected from a partisan perspective, but that doesn’t make it admirable. By all accounts, Judge Gorsuch is both qualified and well-respected, and it would not be appropriate to bork his nomination simply to satisfy a partisan grudge.
Sadly, there are signs that Democrats are going to do precisely that. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced, even before Gorsuch’s name was put forth, that any nominee would face firm Democratic opposition and even a potential filibuster. They may not succeed in borking Gorsuch, but they seem eager to make an attempt.
That’s a misguided approach. It’s time for both sides to return to the pre-Bork days of a civil and deliberative process to confirm Supreme Court justices. Judge Gorsuch — and the American people — deserve no less.