The Honor in Obstruction
As is always true with Supreme Court picks, there is a lot at stake for the future of our country, but also the future of the party system and many individual party representatives on different levels. The entire Democratic Party is between a rock and a hard place, but those with the most to lose are the Democrats from states that went red in the 2016 election.
While the party must decide if they should filibuster Trump’s right-of-Scalia pick, Neil Gorsuch, the ten blue senators from red states run the risk of appearing obstructionist and losing the option to filibuster in the future (via the “nuclear option”), and must also think about appeasing their constituencies to preserve their individual political futures. The GOP, with fifty-two votes, only needs eight Democrats to defect to reach sixty votes and approve Gorsuch, so these senators face enormous pressure from both sides. Guided by inspirational figures like Sally Yates––who sacrifice their individual offices to promote ideology––these senators must put the future of the country ahead of their ambitions and take the risk of displeasing their electorate.
The Supreme Court is a lifetime position. This is important to keep in mind with decisions like this; Trump’s legacy will extend past his time in office through the supreme court justice he never should have had the opportunity to pick. The GOP refused to even entertain Obama’s qualified and centrist pick, Merritt Garland, on the totally fraudulent grounds that presidents don’t get to make SCOTUS picks in their last year in office. Blocking Trump’s pick, however, is not (just) about an eye for an eye. It’s about protecting the political gains that we have made in the recent and distant past.
Gorsuch is a very conservative originalist; originalism is the view that we should interpret the Constitution the way it was meant when it was written, a view supported by many infamously conservative justices, such as Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and now, Neil Gorsuch. For example, with him on the bench, Roe v. Wade is in grave danger.
One of the most famous cases that Gorsuch took part in before it reached the Supreme Court was the Hobby Lobby case about religious freedom and contraception. Hobby Lobby, owned by a devout Evangelical family, did not wish to provide contraception for its employees because they considered the beginning of life to be at conception, thus making contraception, which ideally prevents conception, tantamount to abortion (read that a couple times to fully understand the idiocy). Gorsuch supported them in this case, so how would he rule on a case regarding actual abortions? Originalism has also led justices like Scalia to oppose marriage equality and voting rights. This is scary.
Therefore, Democrats must be aggressive in opposing the appointment of Gorsuch. First and foremost, they must prevent defections of those senators in red states. At this point, it may feel like political suicide to oppose Trump’s pick when you represent a red state, but when Trump and his administration inevitably bungle things, being able to say that you stood up against homegrown fascism when it counted will be great for your future election prospects.
Additionally, it is more important now than ever for Democrats to show their constituencies that their presence in Congress makes a difference. The harder they make it for Trump’s administration to do things that the majority of the country disagrees with, the more support they will have in the upcoming midterm elections.
Unfortunately, even if the Democrats can maintain the necessary numbers to filibuster, majority leader McConnell may employ the “nuclear option” to change the rules and bypass this step entirely. However, this will drain them of a significant amount of political capital that the GOP will then not be able to use elsewhere. Though this may eliminate the option for Democrats to filibuster in the future, as Politico writer Bill Scher says, “If Republicans are prepared to scuttle the filibuster after any attempt by Democrats to use it, it’s already lost.”
Now is the time for the Democrats to wage war and lose. It is important to show the Trump administration that they will face fierce opposition from the Democratic party, that we will make it difficult for them to deconstruct the political advances that we have worked so hard for. The constituency will be energized and moved to action by scrappiness we’ve been waiting to see from our side of the aisle.
Democrats are so afraid of being labeled obstructionists that they may allow a Scalia reincarnation to be appointed without doing all they can to prevent it. But this administration is not just Republican; it is fascist, racist, sexist, Islamophobic, and terrifying in so many ways. Obstruction in the face of such abhorrent injustice isn’t political suicide, but an honorable attempt to preserve our democracy.