President Donald Trump’s successful appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is a major achievement that not even his critics can deny, one that has been a tremendous credit to Trump, with no political downside.
Last week the justices concluded their final oral-argument sitting of the Court’s annual term. (Supreme Court terms begin in October and go through June; last week was the final week of oral arguments for October Term 2016.) It was the first sitting in over a year where the Court had its full complement of nine justices hearing cases. And this Monday saw the first set of weekly orders in which Justice Gorsuch voted on the Court’s decisions.
Supreme Court appointments are a major issue in every presidential campaign. This has been especially true since 1965, when the Court began a steady line of cases that invented new constitutional rights through the doctrine of substantive due process, a doctrine universally criticized by conservatives as blatant judicial activism and a usurpation of the role of elected lawmakers.
But in 2016, nominations to the High Court took on a singular importance. With the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia—an icon of legal conservatives—the stakes for all Americans became sky-high. The Court is divided on the role of unelected judges in America’s democratic republic, and following Scalia’s death, the 2016 presidential election became in part a referendum on the Supreme Court and the meaning of U.S. Constitution.
Trump responded in masterful form. He pledged to fill Scalia’s seat with a justice in the mold of Scalia. He issued a list of potential justices that included names that are favorites for conservatives. He then expanded that list to 21 with still more superstar names, including Gorsuch.
The Republican nominee benefited greatly in the general election from this issue. Polls showed that 21 percent of voters said the Supreme Court was the most important factor in their vote. Those voters broke 57 to 40 for Trump, making it a plus-17 issue in his favor.
As president, Trump earned highest marks on his handling of the appointment. He rolled out the Gorsuch nomination with great fanfare in a prime-time East Room event. Conservative legal leaders praised Gorsuch, and even major liberal legal groups acknowledged that Gorsuch was extremely well-qualified for the High Court.
Gorsuch delivered a flawless performance during his hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nonetheless, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) led a filibuster against Gorsuch, persuading most of his party to join him. In response, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rallied his caucus to invoke the “nuclear option” to abolish Democrats’ recently invented 60-vote cloture threshold for Supreme Court nominees, restoring over 200 years of Senate practice.
Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as the 101st associate justice of the Supreme Court on April 10, 2017. He was, therefore, able to participate in the Court’s two-week April sitting for the final oral arguments of the term, quickly establishing himself as an active—and humorous—addition to the bench.
From first to last, every detail of Trump’s successful appointment of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was an unmitigated victory.
Even Saturday Night Live could not deny that reality. In a recent skit where SNL mocked the president, Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin asks the actor portraying Vice President Mike Pence for a list of everything the president had accomplished in his first 100 days. The VP impersonator responds with a list containing only one item: nominating Gorsuch.
While the president can cite numerous accomplishments, from immigration to the Keystone pipeline, to restoring state control over education, to rolling back burdensome regulations on business, the Left denies all those by casting them in a negative light. But as opposed as liberal groups were to Gorsuch’s bipartisan confirmation, they cannot deny it was a tremendous victory for Trump.
Trump promised more than appointing a single conservative to fill a single Supreme Court vacancy; his promise is to always nominate only originalists to the nation’s highest court. With growing rumors that Justice Anthony Kennedy could retire this summer—and with the virtual certainty that there will be one or two more vacancies over the next four years, regardless of whether it occurs in 2017—the president will have ample opportunity to continue keeping his promise, and to reap the political benefits of those repeat victories.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.