Good high court pick by the president

July 14, 2018

It didn’t take long for the political blowtorches to start flaming after President Trump introduced his newest Supreme Court nominee Monday. Describing the selection of justices as “one of the most profound responsibilities of the president,” Trump announced that he would nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Fifteen minutes later, Kavanaugh had expressed his thanks for the honor and introduced himself graciously and thoughtfully to the American people. “If confirmed by the Senate,” he said, “I will keep an open mind in every case, and I will always strive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law.”

Five minutes later, a screed from Sen. Elizabeth Warren hit my email inbox, declaring that “You can count me as a NO vote” on Kavanaugh’s confirmation. She also asked for a $3 donation to her re-election campaign.

This was soon followed by an email from another 2020 Democratic presidential wannabe, Sen. Kamala Harris. She warned that the mild-mannered Kavanaugh “represents a fundamental threat to the promise of justice and equality.”

The days of bipartisan judicial confirmations now seem like ancient history. In 1993 all but three Republican senators supported President Bill Clinton’s first Supreme Court nominee, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A year later, more than three-quarters of Republicans backed his second pick, Stephen Breyer.

But during the George W. Bush administration, Sen. Harry Reid worked to perfect poisonous tactics for obstructing judicial nominees. In 2005, only half of Democratic senators voted to confirm John Roberts as chief justice. By 2006, only four Democrats supported Samuel Alito’s confirmation.

Today the Republicans’ advantage in the Senate is razor thin: 51-49 if John McCain is well enough to vote. This has focused attention on the Democratic senators from red states who face re-election this fall. At least two are keeping their options open: North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp says she will “thoroughly review and vet” Kavanaugh before making a decision. Indiana’s Joe Donnelly says he will carefully assess the judge’s “record and qualifications.”

Other red-state Democrats apparently fear their party’s “resistance” wing more than they do the Trump supporters back home. Even before Trump’s announcement, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill said she was not “optimistic” the president would “nominate somebody that I would feel comfortable about.”

It’s conventional wisdom that a battle over a Supreme Court nominee energizes both parties. But Democrats already had an enthusiasm edge this year. A protracted fight over Kavanaugh could end up narrowing the gap by firing up GOP voters.

In the end, Justice Kavanaugh is practically inevitable. A colleague of mine in the George W. Bush White House, he is brilliant and decent. His qualifications are extraordinary. During the confirmation hearings he’ll come across as serious, knowledgeable and reassuring.

There will be enough Republican votes to move Kavanaugh from the D.C. Circuit to the big white courthouse. Well done, Mr. President.

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