Donald Trump had the best and most normal moment of his young and ragged presidency Tuesday, with a dignified introduction of a credible nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Now Democrats in the Senate, sorely provoked by the president’s decisions and demeanor since his inauguration — and by their GOP colleagues’ shabby mistreatment last year of President Barack Obama’s final high court nominee, Merrick Garland — face a decision.
Do they promptly declare inflexible opposition to Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite his central-casting credentials: Columbia, Harvard, Oxford; two Supreme Court clerkships; 10 well-regarded years on the appeals bench? Or do they hear Gorsuch out, vigorously scrutinizing his record while reserving judgment until the proper stage of the process?
We hope Democrats choose to treat Gorsuch’s nomination with the respect due to the court as well as the presidency as coequal branches of government — doing their constitutional duty in precisely the way the Republicans were derelict last year. It is a legitimate source of bitter frustration that GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell succeeded in his cynical maneuver to turn the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia into a political spoil to motivate the conservative base in last year’s election. But statesmanship and getting even often are incompatible aims — especially when the nation’s interests require the nobler course.
America needs a functioning Supreme Court that can resolve even those cases that closely divide the justices. That means filling the Scalia seat as soon as due deliberation allows. This does not mean that Democrats must promise not to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination — only that such a decision should follow, not precede, an honest evaluation of his qualifications.
This Editorial Board differs with many of Gorsuch’s rulings and many aspects of his legal philosophy. In hearings and in voluminous input from critics and supporters, much more will soon be learned about the quality of his thinking, his open-mindedness and his commitment to neutral application of the law. If, when the record is complete, his detractors believe he is utterly unfit for the court, a filibuster to deny him even an up-or-down vote could be a legitimate, if extreme, measure under Senate traditions. But no credible case can be made for committing to that course today.
As a candidate for the presidency, Trump explicitly promised a high court selection who would be philosophically like Scalia. Trump was elected, and Gorsuch fits that description. Voters deserve a proper consideration of this democratic outcome.
Gorsuch is plainly an able and thoughtful jurist, a skilled and incisive legal writer. A conservative textualist and originalist, like Scalia, he is unlikely to favor court-led expansions of progressive social policies. But neither does he appear tolerant of government overreach, especially expansions of executive power. That could prove a valuable inclination in the years ahead.
Above all, Gorsuch is simply, undeniably, a legitimate and respectable nominee. In an often confusing and unsettling time, the Senate and the country can reclaim a measure of normalcy by giving him the fair opportunity he deserves to earn confirmation.