Four hundred nineteen. The number of days that the United States Supreme Court was missing a justice due to congress’s refusal to give Merrick Garland a congressional hearing. On Friday, after a year of undermining and insulting the executive power of President Obama, republicans in congress struggled to get their controversial nominee confirmed in light of a liberal filibuster.
They won, but only after completely changing the rules. The GOP employed a “nuclear option” by reducing the number of votes needed to overcome a filibuster to 50, thus rendering the filibuster completely useless against Supreme Court nominees. In doing so, they dramatically changed the nature of the senate confirmation process by eliminating the element of debate. They undermined the check and balances that were employed against every previous Supreme Court nominee. And, they set a precedent for silencing dissenting senators rather than accommodating them.
Eliminating the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations sends the nation down a slippery slope. Supreme Court justices, unlike cabinet members, are appointed for life, and far outlast a presidency. Thanks to the new rule change, the party in power can make drastic and irreversible changes to the judicial branch, while the minority party is left with little capacity for intervention.
But it isn’t just the precedent that’s scary here; it’s Neil Gorsuch himself. He may become the most conservative justice on the supreme court, at a time when many are desperately relying on the courts to foster social progress. Needless to say, Gorsuch’s confirmation will hit some groups harder than others.
Gorsuch has a history of ruling to undermine women’s access to preventative health care, contraception and other services provided through Planned Parenthood, and he has defended the right of health care companies to deny women birth control coverage. Now more than ever, with a president and congress determined to undermine Planned Parenthood and the right to healthcare, millions of women are depending on the supreme court to protect their rights. They cannot count on Gorsuch to take their side.
Gorsuch is also unlikely to be an ally for the LGBT community. While a majority of the country supports the existing judicial precedent protecting marriage equality, Gorsuch has insinuated that the issue is still up for debate. This puts many LGBT couples at risk of losing privileges that others enjoy when it comes to health care, social security or even parental rights. He also ruled to deny hormone therapy to an imprisoned transgender woman in 2015, demonstrating that he cannot be trusted to protect even some of the most basic rights of the queer community.
Gorsuch’s views fall far behind the rest of the country. But what is most unsettling is that he secured his critical position in a completely unprecedented manner, skipping over the obstacles that every nominee before him has been required to overcome. After making a joke out of the President Obama’s qualified nominee, it is disappointing that the GOP could not recognize the concerns of the other side and search for a judge who is representative of the average American, instead of cheating their way to the finish line.