Neil Gorsuch steals the week
WASHINGTON — Watching the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, one might easily find oneself wishing he were president of the United States.
Alas, he’s not. But Gorsuch’s selection to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia is the sanest act committed by a president whose first 60 days have left him with an approval rating under 40 percent and persistent questions about his stability.
Donald Trump should be sending champagne to Gorsuch — for life — for projecting enough grace to benefit those who haven’t a knack for it. This, obviously, would include Trump, whose fitful twitter tantrums tend to overtake any noble aspirations he might pretend to. But then, I delude myself.
Last week was not kind to Trump, though he alone has earned the text that will follow him into history books. Imagine knowing that future generations will read about the twitter-fevered illusionist who invented stories to distract the crowds, accusing his predecessor, Barack Obama, of wire taps in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Imagine knowing what the world now knows — that Trump’s paranoid fantasy was just that. Testifying Monday before the House Intelligence committee, FBI Director James Comey said there is no evidence to support the president’s claims. He also said that the FBI is actively investigating whether the Trump campaign had any connection to Russian operatives responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers, the contents of which were delivered to WikiLeaks.
Comey’s remark that Vladimir Putin hated Hillary Clinton so much that he was trying to hurt her — and if it benefited Trump, fine — seemed to dispel suspicions that Trump himself had anything to do with Russia’s blatant interference with U.S. elections. But, who knows? Comey was careful to reveal as little as possible about the bureau’s findings.
So that was Monday.
Most of the focus Tuesday turned to Day 2 in Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation process. Amid much bluster and box-checking by senators on both sides of the aisle, Gorsuch continued to remind everyone why his peers, especially other judges, consider him as qualified as anyone could possibly be. Calm and unflappable throughout, Gorsuch wore the face of someone accustomed to listening intently without betraying any predisposition or bias.
Democrats naturally had to set out their arguments for their base and spent most of their time questioning Gorsuch’s independence and fairness, repeatedly trying to get him to signal whether he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Gorsuch said nothing to appease or agitate, pointing instead to his record of participation in 2,700 lower-court rulings. He also made assurances that he takes precedent seriously, noting that Roe has been reaffirmed multiple times.
Gorsuch’s stubborn (and ethical) refusal to offer opinions on precedent spoke directly to his independence. To express an opinion, he said, would damage his credibility and perception of fairness with future litigants. It didn’t seem that there was any question that would throw Gorsuch off, which is what usually happens when one is secure in the truth and confident of one’s convictions.
But, importantly, all got to make their points, including the repellent Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., whose own record, frankly, should disqualify him as an arbiter of judicial integrity. Here is a man who committed one of the most craven betrayals of his generation — not sex with an intern, nor trafficking with prostitutes, but with stolen valor.
How does a man who embellishes his military career — implying that he fought in Vietnam when, in fact, he received five deferments before serving stateside — consider himself worthy to prosecute the qualifications of one of the nation’s most brilliant jurists? When he did serve in the military, Blumenthal was able to secure a cushy position in the Marine Corps Reserves, (which is not to impugn his ability to meet the Corps’ rigid physical requirements), where he was given such jobs as refurbishing a children’s campground and running a Toys for Tots drive.
Not that those aren’t important.
Blumenthal did issue a public apology in 2010, saying he had meant that he had served during the war, which was and is nonsense. Blumenthal, nonetheless, has found the courage to hit the airwaves and bray his intention to become Gorsuch’s fiercest opponent, promising to filibuster and demanding a 60-vote majority, which he has declared the standard for Supreme Court nominations. It isn’t, according to Washington Post fact-checkers.
Gorsuch’s hearing should reassure Americans that there are still grown-ups around who are willing to serve. It was also heartening to hear him say that “No man is above the law, no man.”