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100 Days of Trump: Gorsuch swearing-in finally makes the Supreme Court whole again

Considering the huge amount of effort that was expended by both sides of the Supreme Court confirmation fight since he was officially nominated by President Donald Trump at the end of January, Judge Neil Gorsuch’s final senate vote went off without much exertion on Friday.

Ryan Lovelace of the Washington Examiner reported, “The Senate confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court chamberSupreme Court on Friday.

“The Republican majority was joined in the 54-45 vote by a few Democrats in confirming the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge to the high court. Gorsuch's success comes after the Senate killed the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations on Thursday, effectively paving the way for Gorsuch to join the high court.”

Democrats technically could have dragged out the process until early evening on Friday, but it wouldn’t have made any difference in the outcome. For once it looked like the minority party simply capitulated. Or maybe they just wanted to commiserate with their leftist interest groups or start their Easter recess early.

Whatever the reason, Judge Neil Gorsuch will become Justice Neil Gorsuch today. I doubt Chuck Schumer will be there to iron the robe, however.

Again, Lovelace reported, “President Trump announced Friday that his nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, will be sworn into office in two ceremonies on Monday, as he congratulated him on his confirmation by the Senate.

“Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath of office to the new justice in a private ceremony at 9 a.m. at the Supreme Court, followed by Justice Anthony Kennedy administering the second oath in a public ceremony at the White House at 11 a.m. Gorsuch was a clerk for Kennedy in the 1990s.”

That means by the time many of you read this we’ll once again have a full bench of nine justices seated opposite the attorneys’ table.

It will no doubt be a very proud moment for President Trump and all of the Republicans who worked so hard for over a year to make sure the Supreme Court’s ideological balance was maintained.

With Gorsuch’s ascension to the Court after his swearing-in he will work pretty much in obscurity for the rest of his life. Forgive the analogy, but a Supreme Court justice is a little like a high profile criminal defendant who receives tons of media coverage during his public trial but then all-but disappears from view once he’s convicted and locked up.

Justices are much the same way. They’re celebrities during confirmation and then they just go away… If you don’t believe me, what have you heard about Justice Elena Kagan lately?

There is much ongoing debate about installing cameras in the Supreme Court chamber. Until that happens – if it ever does – we’ll likely only see Gorsuch at the president’s annual State of the Union address, on 60 Minutes once in a great while or at various law school commencements or moot court competitions if he chooses to do that type of thing.

The life of a Supreme Court justice is fairly concealed and mysterious compared to other high-level government officials. They only draw attention from the press when they do something “controversial” (such as Chief Justice Roberts voting to uphold Obamacare), resign…or die.

Political pundits will now practically forget about Gorsuch, quite a turnaround from the media circus that’s surrounded him for the past ten or so weeks. In that time the judge has become practically a household name with people arguing over the Supreme Court’s role more than his own individual characteristics or beliefs.

What’s become permanent after the Gorsuch episode is the animosity between the parties on the issue of judicial nominations. From here on out I would expect every confirmation contest will devolve into a mostly partisan wrestling match where 90 percent of the senators from both sides will automatically vote for or against every nominee based on the president who nominated him or her. The Democrats will do it because they’re Democrats. Republicans will do it because the Democrats do it. An eye for an eye, tit for tat, etc…

The “moderates” will rule the day as they control the 10 percent of middle ground that still exists between the parties. Just as Justice Anthony Kennedy is known as the “swing vote” on the Supreme Court because he sometimes sides with the liberal bloc to give them a 5-4 majority, the dozen or so “moderate” senators will decide the fate of future Court nominees.

This will make Senators like John McCain, Susan Collins, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake awful popular to interest groups in the future as will Democrats Joe Machin, Heide Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly. I was going to include Colorado Senator Michael Bennett in that group but he didn’t even vote for the man who he introduced before Gorsuch’s hearing.

It’s a little hard to remember now but Gorsuch made an earnest effort to earn Democrat support by visiting every senator who would give him an audience to plead his case for confirmation. I believe Gorsuch talked privately with over 70 senators before his hearings and many Democrats praised the nominee for his independent mind and fondness for fly fishing. It didn’t matter.

In the end only three Democrats voted for him. Shameful.

There have been numerous rumors that Gorsuch’s mentor, Justice Kennedy, will likely be the next to step down from the Court at some point in the near future. If it happens, the whole process starts anew. People will suddenly start talking about the Supreme Court again and all focus will return to the president and the senate.

With the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees now nuked back into history, the media will count votes even before the new person is named. I predict the next in line will be Senator Mike Lee for a lot of reasons, most notably because Lee would be in the best position to withstand the inevitable smear-job that’s waiting for any Republican Supreme Court hopeful. Democrats – at least some of them -- might be a little more hesitant to cut one of their own to pieces in public.

But you never know. For now, let’s celebrate Justice Gorsuch and feel glad that the Constitution will be given its due -- and then tuck the issue away until it crops up again the next time.

The media and a few senators are the only ones who care about the losing the filibuster

One aspect of the Gorsuch chapter that likely won’t slip quietly into the sunset of history is last week’s pushing of the “nuclear option” button by the Republican senate majority in response to the inane Democrat filibuster of the eminently qualified Trump Supreme Court nominee.

As it stands now the filibuster remains only for legislation – and even then both parties have proven adept at getting around it through the reconciliation process.

Though Gorsuch will take his seat on the bench today people will be revisiting for a while how the “deal” to save the filibuster ultimately fell through. A small group of senators from both parties were working up until the day before the vote to try and save the practice. They didn’t prevail.

Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim of Politico report, “[C]linching an agreement on how Democrats would advance Gorsuch while preserving the option of blocking a nominee for the next vacancy proved impossible. The fact that the parties clashed so severely over whether Gorsuch was even a mainstream jurist undermined any confidence that senators could hold to a pact covering President Donald Trump’s next Supreme Court pick...

“This story is based on interviews with more than 20 senators and Capitol Hill aides, some of whom differed on just how close the working group came to saving the Supreme Court filibuster. But on one point, everyone agrees: The gap between the two parties was too broad and mistrust too baked in after 15 years of nomination wars for a bipartisan ‘gang’ to prevent the Senate from drifting further away from its collaborative roots.”

Those “collaborative roots” are a myth perpetuated by idealists like John McCain. They don’t and have never existed.

According to the Politico reporters, any kind of “deal” would have hinged on whether the party leaders could be brought in to at least sanction the talks. Neither was willing.

Prior to the past few months I rarely saw Mitch McConnell as a fierce defender of principle, but the Majority Leader deserves a lot of credit for not only waging a winning fight to confirm Gorsuch but also for his willingness to hold steady on all of Trump’s nominees in the face of fierce Democrat obstruction and public relations campaigns to discredit the new president and his hand-picked cabinet members.

McConnell will no doubt go wobbly again on other important matters such as the federal budget and immigration, but for now, he deserves a great deal of recognition.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the entire Gorsuch situation is the media’s obvious lamenting of the use of the “nuclear option” to kill the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

They, together with a small bipartisan group of mushy-moderate senators, seem to be the only ones who care a lick about the filibuster going by way of the dodo bird.

“[Senator Bob] Corker believes the legislative filibuster is now on the line, given how little public outrage there was this time. ‘Sanitary’ was how he described the process that led to the end of the 60-vote filibuster for Supreme Court nominees,” the Politico reporters wrote.

If that turns out to be the case, so be it. The filibuster itself is not mentioned in the Constitution and only dates back to the mid 1800’s. The phony notion of the need for “consensus” is a modern invention. The Senate itself was never intended to be more than a body representing the interests of the individual states in Congress.

Instead it’s devolved into a platform for blowhards like Chuck Schumer to lecture Americans on what should and should not be accomplished by Congress. Do you think the Founding Fathers ever conceived of senators like Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Patty Murray and Al Franken holding the country hostage through tyranny of the lunatic minority?

The fact is there are plenty of safeguards built into the system to prevent majorities from trampling the little guy through legislation, including the federal courts and the political process itself. The issue of judicial confirmations should play a major role in every campaign for U.S. Senators, since from now on one or two votes could mean the difference between saving the Constitution’s separation of powers and allowing small groups of the powerful to run roughshod over all of us just because they say the Constitution is a “living and breathing” document.

Getting a bill through Congress and onto the president’s desk is difficult by any measure. The filibuster itself is merely the last tool of defense for desperate politically-motivated people trying to stop change that most others want. And as suggested above, the “moderates” only want to preserve the filibuster because it provides them an outsized say in matters than they would otherwise deserve.

Reality suggests the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees was going to go at some point. If it wasn’t last Thursday it would’ve been the next time the pathetic minority Democrats worked feverishly to prevent a qualified nominee from being confirmed. It was inevitable.

Polls show most people wanted Gorsuch confirmed. The Democrats tried to stop him. They lost.

And if the legislative filibuster proves to be equally perverse, it needs to go too.

Trump strike on Syria – quagmire or reminiscent of Reagan and Libya?

Last week President Donald Trump made good on a vow to hold Syrian president Assad accountable for the apparent chemical weapons assault against his own people by launching a cruise missile strike against Syrian targets that were allegedly involved in perpetrating the attack.

Conservatives are divided over the move, with some cheering Trump’s bold action to righteously battle evil and others more cautiously worrying and hoping it doesn’t signal a change in the non-intervention philosophy Trump consistently articulated during last year’s campaign.

Many fear getting further involved in Syria will result in being bogged down in a hopeless quagmire similar to the one American forces confronted in Iraq a decade ago.

Some say Trump should get back to his original platform of putting America first.

Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner reported on one of those, “Laura Ingraham, the media mogul who was among the first to jump on the Trump train, is urging the president to stick to his ‘America First’ agenda and resist temptations to follow a ‘conventional Bush-style Republican approach’ on the economy and foreign policy…

Ingraham said, “If Donald Trump stays true to his America First agenda, addressing the plight of our middle class, our open borders, our poorly drafted trade deals, and our muddled foreign policy, his movement will grow and he'll be successful. But if he allows his administration to drift away from those core tenets, toward a more conventional Bush-style Republican approach, the results will be catastrophic for his presidency and the country we love.”

Ingraham also indirectly criticized Trump’s Syria move in a tweet. It’s clear she sees a lot of “Bush” in the gesture.

It’s safe to say practically no one other than maybe John McCain and Lindsey Graham want a deep U.S. involvement in Syria. To do so is a lose-lose situation no matter how it’s sliced; if Assad is removed some sort of radical Sunni group will likely move in to “govern” the country. If Assad is left alone then Iran (and Russia) is happy.

The United States learned in Iraq and Libya that what comes after a deposed dictator cannot be predicted and it’s often worse for U.S. interests than what was there in the first place.

But the thought occurred to me that in hitting Syria from afar and essentially causing symbolic damage to the Assad regime Trump was really just channeling Ronald Reagan who ordered a similar strike against Libya in 1986.

It was basically just a shot across the bow in the scheme of things, a signal that the United States isn’t going to take provocations sitting down.

We’re a long way from another Bush-like major military commitment in the region. Let’s hope Trump honors his campaign promises and keeps it that way. If not, it will likely destroy his presidency.

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