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Cracks in the Gorsuch Blockade

Walter Russell Mead

It’s looking more likely that the Senate will avoid an institution-rattling showdown over President Trump’s first Supreme Court nomination. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said Thursday they would vote in favor of putting Judge Neil Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first Democrats to support President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year.

“I hold no illusions that I will agree with every decision Judge Gorsuch may issue in the future, but I have not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court Justice,” Mr. Manchin said. […]

Mr. Manchin, part of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate, facing re-election in 2018 in a state that Mr. Trump won by more than 40 points.

Ms. Heitkamp, also a centrist, faces a similarly tough race in North Dakota, which Mr. Trump won by more than 30 points.

There will be no shortage of voices condemning these two Democratic Senators for political opportunism in acceding to Trump’s Supreme Court pick. But there are three important things to be noted here: The first is that Gorusch is an extremely well qualified nominee; one can differ with his judicial philosophy, but one can hardly accuse him of being anything other than a scrupulously honest and unusually intelligent judge. Second, as a conservative taking Antonin Scalia’s seat, Gorsuch does not change the ideological balance on the Court. Third, the voters that both Senators Manchin and Heitkamp represent by and large want to see him confirmed, and do not want to see the Senate convulsed by either a filibuster or the death of the filibuster.

In other words, while the vote may well be in the political interest of these two senators, it also makes sense to avoid trench warfare over this nomination.

There may come a time when a nomination by Trump or some other President of a strongly conservative judge to a seat now held by a liberal or moderate justice would tip the balance of the Court. Whether in that case the Democrats should risk a fight that would upend the Senate and intensify the polarization that is eroding the institutional foundations of the American system is up for debate. But this nomination is not, even from a partisan Democratic or deeply liberal point of view, a threat to the republic that justifies the destruction of the filibuster—a procedural safeguard that for all its faults has become an important bulwark of minority rights in U.S. politics.

Let’s hope that at least six of their colleagues will also rally to the banner of common sense and level-headed governance in this unusual time.

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