The P.R. campaign to sell Judge Neil M. Gorsuch to the public is well-underway, with a strong emphasis on portraying him as a moderate/centrist who wouldn’t be so bad for Democrats. It’s a strategy rooted in deception because Gorsuch holds right-wing views on worker rights and has an unsavory history of partisan activity, despite his lofty affirmations about the importance of the independent judiciary.
Gorsuch, who artfully dodged questions about Citizens United and Bush v. Gore, is a fairly slick manipulator of media, which helps to project an image of moderation. As Adam Liptak notes in The New York Times:
The nation’s first extended look at Judge Gorsuch in an unscripted setting revealed a smooth performer who shared some qualities with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who handled his 2005 confirmations hearings with such deep reserves of poise and wit that he was said to have retired the trophy.
Judge Gorsuch’s testimony was folksier, a little more combative and a little more canned. But he shared the chief justice’s ability to describe complex legal doctrines without taking a position on how they applied to actual controversies.
“I care deeply about the independence of the judiciary,” Gorsuch said on Tuesday. “When anyone criticizes the honesty or integrity or motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening and demoralizing.”
Apparently Gorsuch didn’t “care deeply” enough about his fellow jurist Merrick Garland, a moderate, who is held in high esteem for his personal integrity, being denied a hearing by Republicans, nor even a meeting with any Republicans. This Mike Luckovitch cartoon captures the limits of Gorsuch’s principles regarding “the independence of the judiciary.”
Any Democrat who votes for Gorsuch is, in a sense, giving the Republicans a free ride on the total obstruction of a moderate nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
Another indication that Gorsuch harbors hyperpartisan convictions underneath his practiced media persona has been noted by Ari Berman at The Nation. As J.P. Green recently noted,
Ari Berman cuts to the chase in his article in The Nation, “In E-mails, Neil Gorsuch Praised a Leading Republican Activist Behind Voter Suppression Efforts. Gorsuch’s ties to Hans von Spakovksy suggest a hostility to voting rights.” As Berman writes: “Few people in the Republican Party have done more to limit voting rights than Hans von Spakovsky. He’s been instrumental in spreading the myth of widespread voter fraud and backing new restrictions to make it harder to vote. But it appears that von Spakovsky had an admirer in Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, according to e-mails released to the Senate Judiciary Committee covering Gorsuch’s time working in the George W. Bush Administration. When President Bush nominated von Spakovksy to the Federal Election Commission in late 2005, Gorsuch wrote, “Good for Hans!””…At very least, the e-mails suggest Gorsuch was friendly with von Spakovksy. But it’s far more disturbing if Gorsuch shares Von Spakovsky’s views on voting rights. Given that we know almost nothing about Gorsuch’s views on the subject, this is something the Senate needs to press him on during confirmation hearings next week.
Gorsuch has already cited Justice Antonin Scalia as a role model, who said the Voting Rights Act had led to a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Gorsuch, if confirmed, could be the deciding vote on whether to weaken the remaining sections of the VRA and whether to uphold discriminatory voter-ID laws and redistricting plans from states like North Carolina and Texas. In many ways, the fate of voting rights in the United States hangs on this nomination.
There is also Gorsuch’s very problematic record regarding worker rights and protection. In her Roll Call article, “Senate Democrats Preview Their Case Against Gorsuch: Supreme Court nominee cast as foe of workers.” Bridget Bowman writes, “Judge Gorsuch may act like a neutral, calm judge,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer. “But his record and his career clearly show he harbors a right wing, pro-corporate, special interest agenda.”
Democrats have often opposed recent Republican nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court on the basis of the nominee’s views on “social issues,” especially reproductive rights. And there is more than enough to be concerned about concerning Gorsuch’s rulings and views on a range of such issues. But it is especially encouraging that Democrats are now focusing on Gorsuch’s positions on worker rights, which would concern an even larger constituency — all working people.
Whether Gorsuch gets nominated or not, Democrats can use this opportunity to strengthen their image by taking a high profile, front and center, as the real champions of worker rights. If they can stop the Gorsuch appointment or further delay the agenda of Trump and the Republicans, so much the better. The Republicans certainly deserve no better than all-out obstruction, since that has been their policy for over 8 years.
For Gorsuch, as with seemingly all Republicans these days, ethics are purely instrumental — that which benefits me is ethical.
Having said that, I’m amazed at the ability of Democrats to blow it.