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Justice served

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 01:50 pm

I know I'll be holding my breath for the next four years, waiting for Donald Trump's impulsiveness or ego make him do something utterly stupid. But, so far, so far. He seems to be making good on (or at least making a start on) all the conservative promises he made during the campaign. He's signed a hiring freeze and talked about deep cuts in federal spending and regulations. Given the track record on campaign promises and the difficulty in pinning Trump down ideologically, this is just a little bit amazing to me.And now a really big one, maybe the big one. Maybe this is premature to take heart over, but it looks like President Trump has zeroed in on a nominee for Supreme Court justice:

Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, a highly regarded conservative jurist best known for upholding religious liberty rights in the legal battles over Obamacare, has emerged as a leading contender for President Trump’s first Supreme Court nomination. 

[. . .]

He currently serves on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. A former clerk for Justice Byron White, also a Colorado native, and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, he served in the George W. Bush administration’s Justice Department.

In Gorsuch, supporters see a jurist who has strong academic credentials, a gift for clear writing and a devotion to deciding cases based on the original meaning of the Constitution and the text of statutes, as did the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

And he's young. He's only 49 now, which means he could help shape the court for decades. So this pick will likely have a more profound and lasting effect than anything else Trump does.

This is one of those instances in which it doesn't matter that Trump is doing exactly what he promised he would do. He should get credit at least for that from all quarters, but he won't. Liberals will hate it and conservatives will love it, but on the substance of it, not on the fact that a candidate is keeping a campaign pledge.

This appointment will not create a "more conservative" Supreme Court.  It will merely return us to the status quo ante of a divided court.  Tough cultural decisions will split 5-4, just as they did when Antonin Scalia sat on the bench, with the vote going conservative more often than not but always with the possibility of a liberal tilt depending on which side of the bed Anthony Kennedy got up on.

If Hillary Clinton had been elected, there would have been a profound shift. There are four solid liberal votes, and a fifth would have created a reliably liberal court. It could have started undoing everything the more conservative court had done for years as easily as Trump can undo President Obama's executive orders. But I don't think the new court as designed by Trump will be doing much of that. Despite conservative hopes and liberal fears, they're not going to undo things like Roe v. Wade or gay marriage anytime soon. 

Gorsuch apparently has one other very important trait:

Just as importantly, Gorsuch is seen as someone who might be more easily confirmed in the Senate. Unlike other appointees of President George W. Bush, Gorsuch won an easy Senate confirmation on a voice vote in 2006.

We'll see, but that sounds awfully naive to me. Just because Democrats didn't make a big fuss about Gorsuch in 2006, that doesn't mean they won't this time around. The stakes are too high, and Democrats aren't going down with a fight.

Not that it might matter much. Harry Reid opened the door to the nuclear option of getting the justice confirmed on a simple majority vote. I don't know if Mitch McConnell will be willing to go that far, but he has said he wouldn't rule it out.

THIS JUST IN: The New Times says there are two top contenders for Scalia's seat, Gorsuch and Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of the federal appeals court in Atlanta, ". . . a former Alabama attorney general, a graduate of Tulane’s law school and an outspoken opponent of abortion and gay rights." And some sources say there are three finalists:

President Donald Trump has narrowed his first Supreme Court nomination to three finalists, with 10th Circuit judge Neil Gorsuch and 3rd Circuit judge Thomas Hardiman emerging as front-runners while 11th Circuit Judge Bill Pryor remains in the running but fading, according to people familiar with the search process.

Gorsuch seems like the best of the bunch to me, but all three would add the conservative to the court Trump pledged he would add.

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