Going Nuclear, and Why Not?

At this point it seems certain the Republicans in the Senate are going to employ the “nuclear option.” That’s not nearly so bad as it sounds, as it doesn’t involve any literal mass destruction or lingering radiation, but it’s nonetheless a sorry state of affairs for everybody.
If you’re not hip to the political lingo, the “nuclear option” means they’ll confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court with a mere majority rather than the 60 votes required to end a filibuster. The Republicans currently hold more than a majority of votes, with all of them ready to confirm Gorsuch, but the Democrats have more than the 40 votes need to sustain a filibuster, with all of them seemingly ready to keep it up until hell freezes over or whatever else might follow the administration of President Donald Trump, so it seems a natural outcome. All the Republicans used to consider the filibuster rule sacrosanct back when a Democratic president was making Supreme Court picks and they held a filibustering plurality in the Senate, and at that point all the Democrats considered it a silly and not even constitutionally-mandated rule that needed to be “nuked” on behalf of whatever Democratic nominee happened to be up for consideration, so as usual both parties are a bunch of hypocrites. There’s still something to be said for that old rule about a super-majority being needed for such weighty matters, even from an old-fashioned Republican’s traditionalist perspective, but but parties have brought us to such a sorry state of affairs that it such niceties are no longer sustainable.
The Democrats are understandably miffed that the Supreme Court seat in question became vacant during the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama, yet his nominee — whose name was either Merrick Garland or Garland Merrick, we keep forgetting — never even got a hearing from a Republican-controlled Senate, but there was plenty of historical precedent and a very persuasive case for the Republicans’ obstruction of a lame duck president’s appointment. Nothing against Garland or Merrick or whatever his name was, who struck us as yet another disastrous post-constitutional Democratic appointment but about as good as you could hope for from an Obama administration that knew it couldn’t press its luck by that point, but the Republicans did have historical precedent and a persuasive case as well unbearable pressure from every last Republican voter in the country including ourselves. The Republican establishment thus forwarded the pick to Trump, who had ironically run on the argument that the Republicans needed to burn down the establishment that rolled over for everything Obama wanted to, and he chose the impeccably constitutionalist Gorsuch, which relieved even such still-skeptical-of-Trump Republicans as ourselves and of course outraged the Democrats.
All the nasty hearings in the Senate’s committees and sub-committees and friendly press appearances haven’t come up with any compromising information about Gorsuch’s character, and his constitution-means-what-it-says judicial philosophy isn’t all that controversial and has usually wound up on the majority of his lower-circuit opinions, and from a Democratic perspective he’s about as good as you could hope for from any old Republican much less a Trump administration prone to pressing its luck, but these days there’s an extra amount of Democratic Party pressure being brought to bear against anything Trump. We’re not so crazy about Trump our own Republican selves, as regular readers are well aware, but this seems a political miscalculation. If Gorsuch is rejected by a Democratic minority under the old rules they once defended they’ll be obliged to reject the next candidate, and the next one after that, and so on for at least four years of an eight-member Supreme Court, and at some point the Democrats will start polling even worse than Trump on the issue. With Gorsuch replacing the late and great-to-us-Republicans Justice Antonin Scalia his confirmation won’t change any decisions, and the Democrats can hope for more favorable conditions when the next Democratic seat inevitably opens, so we figure their best bet is to cede a battle and save that filibuster rule for a moment in the future when it will surely come in handy, and in the meantime let Trump continue to hog all the headlines.
Over the long term the best bet for the Republicans might be to retain that old filibuster rule they once relied on, but at the moment it doesn’t make any sense at all. Employing a merely figurative “nuclear option” isn’t going get much notice, and anyone who is paying attention but hasn’t already chosen sides will probably conclude that the Democrats are just dead-set against Trump even if he turns out to be right about something. The next vacancy on the Supreme Court will probably be one of those post-constitutitionalist Democrats, which raises the stakes, but the betting death-pool odds have the Republicans still holding on to Senate Majorities and even the White House when that happens, and there’s a shot that the Republican establishment will still be around for that, and the Democrats aren’t going to be any bi-partisan mood soon, so now’s as good a time to go “nuclear” as any.
There’s still something to be said for gaining enough bi-partisan support for something as a Supreme Court Justice, and it pains our traditionalist Republican souls to let it pass, but these are partisan times and any establishment has gotta do what its gotta do. We just hope there’s enough establishment left when the next seat comes up that there will be another Gorsuch.

— Bud Norman

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