Why This Court Pick Is the Most Consequential Choice of Trump's Presidency

Why This Court Pick Is the Most Consequential Choice of Trump's Presidency

Why you should care

The “But Gorsuch” crowd is about to add another name — and cement Donald Trump’s vise grip on the Republican Party.

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For a brief moment on Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s Wikipedia page, and thus the top of his Google search results, included the epithet “world-renowned ‘lib-owner.’ ” It was only up for six minutes — Wikipedians are swift to nix such larks — but the point was plain: The archconservative Gorsuch’s votes to damage public sector unions and uphold President Donald Trump’s travel ban, among others, are causing America’s liberals to tear their hair out at the prospect of having him on the high court for a few more decades.

Among conservatives debating the merits of their erratic president, “But Gorsuch” has become something of a jeer. Anti-Trump Republicans cannot bear juvenile insults, trade wars, cozying to dictators, using his post to buoy his business, obstructing justice, etc. They often characterize conservative elites who support Trump as the “But Gorsuch” crowd — willing to forgive everything for the sake of the Supreme Court.

26 percent of Trump voters said Supreme Court appointments were the most important issue to them.

As June comes to a close with monumental conservative wins on First Street and a new justice on the way after Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, the group has a spring in its step. “But Gorsuch and Kavanaugh” is a mouthful, but if D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh or another similarly young-ish consistent conservative navigates the Senate, it doubles the delight of the right and solidifies Trump’s viselike grip on his party. And the president knows it. If Trump could clone Gorsuch, he would.

In 2016 — the election we’re doomed to relive until the end of time — Trump released two lists, adding up to 21 judicial candidates handpicked by conservative activists. He promised to choose one of them for the late Antonin Scalia’s seat, and he followed through. (The list has since expanded to 25, including Kavanaugh.) The former New York Democrat doesn’t have the ideological mooring of, say, Vice President Mike Pence, but Trump respects the conservative movement’s power.

The court may well have delivered him the White House. Exit polls from 2016 showed that 26 percent of Trump voters said Supreme Court appointments were the most important issue to them, compared to 18 percent of Hillary Clinton voters. It’s not a huge gap, but you may recall the election was tight.

It’s a truism that conservatives care more intensely about judges than liberals do. Republicans, staring down an enthusiasm gap, can motivate the base on the prospect of a conservative justice who could overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide. But a nuclear SCOTUS war in the Senate shakes both sides. Women are already pissed off and more engaged than ever, both in running for office (witness 28-year-old star of the moment, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and in doing the political spadework to turn out Democrats in November. A massive fight over reproductive rights turns the volume to 11.

But will this all be settled by the time the midterms arrive? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who knows a little something about the judicial nominations process, has pledged a vote by the fall. He’s not taking any chances on the slim odds of losing his majority.

It puts a lot of pressure on Trump to get this pick right — a false start costs him precious time if a nominee stumbles with Senate GOP moderates or some dark element of his or her past arises. At a North Dakota rally hours after Kennedy’s announcement, Trump vowed to pick someone with “intellect” who would serve for “40, 45 years.” (Hyperbole check: William O. Douglas is the longest serving justice of all time, at 36.5 years.)

With all that rides on this seat, the Supreme Court short list might be the only time Donald Trump sticks to the script.

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