Neal K. Katyal writes: I am hard-pressed to think of one thing President Trump has done right in the last 11 days since his inauguration. Until Tuesday, when he nominated an extraordinary judge and man, Neil Gorsuch, to be a justice on the Supreme Court.
The nomination comes at a fraught moment. The new administration’s executive actions on immigration have led to chaos everywhere from the nation’s airports to the Department of Justice. They have raised justified concern about whether the new administration will follow the law. More than ever, public confidence in our system of government depends on the impartiality and independence of the courts.
There is a very difficult question about whether there should be a vote on President Trump’s nominee at all, given the Republican Senate’s history-breaking record of obstruction on Judge Merrick B. Garland — perhaps the most qualified nominee ever for the high court. But if the Senate is to confirm anyone, Judge Gorsuch, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, should be at the top of the list.
I believe this, even though we come from different sides of the political spectrum. I was an acting solicitor general for President Barack Obama; Judge Gorsuch has strong conservative bona fides and was appointed to the 10th Circuit by President George W. Bush. But I have seen him up close and in action, both in court and on the Federal Appellate Rules Committee (where both of us serve); he brings a sense of fairness and decency to the job, and a temperament that suits the nation’s highest court.
Considerable doubts about the direction of the Supreme Court have emerged among Democrats in recent weeks, particularly given some of the names that have been floated by the administration for possible nomination. With environmental protection, reproductive rights, privacy, executive power and the rights of criminal defendants (including the death penalty) on the court’s docket, the stakes are tremendous. I, for one, wish it were a Democrat choosing the next justice. But since that is not to be, one basic criterion should be paramount: Is the nominee someone who will stand up for the rule of law and say no to a president or Congress that strays beyond the Constitution and laws?
I have no doubt that if confirmed, Judge Gorsuch would help to restore confidence in the rule of law. His years on the bench reveal a commitment to judicial independence — a record that should give the American people confidence that he will not compromise principle to favor the president who appointed him. Judge Gorsuch’s record suggests that he would follow in the tradition of Justice Elena Kagan, who voted against President Obama when she felt a part of the Affordable Care Act went too far. In particular, he has written opinions vigorously defending the paramount duty of the courts to say what the law is, without deferring to the executive branch’s interpretations of federal statutes, including our immigration laws. [Continue reading…]
Of this much we can be close to certain: Donald Trump did not give deep thought to his choice.
How can we be so sure?
There is an overwhelming body of evidence that Trump is incapable of deep thought. If evidence to the contrary exists, I have yet to see it.
Trump’s decision was most likely strongly influenced by pieces of information such as this: that when possible new members of the court were ranked in terms of which was most like Justice Scalia, Gorsuch ranked highest. For Trump, the idea that he could replace Scalia with a close match would seem to make the selection process a no-brainer.
Where least thought is required, there Trump reliably goes.
If Katyal is correct in his assessment of Gorsuch’s commitment to judicial independence, this is indeed the most important factor at play at a time when the rule of law is in question.