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Neil Gorsuch Was Worth The Filibuster

It was smart politics for Democrats seeking credibility with younger voters

Donald Trump's young presidency has existed mostly in the ether. He has moved into our timelines and pushed his way into our notifications, generating fresh mayhem every day. But through all the chaos it can be hard to remember that, so far, Trump has helped the bottom lines of therapists more than he has hurt the nation. That border wall isn't close to becoming a reality. His draconian executive orders have certainly changed some lives for the worse, but the courts and a future Democratic president could very well wipe them all away. His budget proposal is a villain's wish list, but it's likely too extreme for even this Republican-led Congress to fulfill. The Trump reality-show character we see on television, whooping it up at rallies, may have made an indelible mark on our culture. But the guy now working in the Oval Office really hasn't done much. However cruel or unusual his moves have been, they are quite reversible.

There is an exception. The backward politics that Neil Gorsuch, Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, hides beneath his polished veneer could do a lot of damage to progressive priorities. Gorsuch won't turn 50 until August. With good health, he'll likely end up serving on the bench for several decades. His relative youth is not disqualifying in and of itself, but it makes his nomination a more frightening prospect. Earlier this week, nearly every Senate Democrat announced they were willing to vote against Gorsuch, making way for the first filibuster against a Supreme Court nominee since the 1960s. Though Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon did pull a 15-hour overnight stint on the Senate floor this week in protest of Gorsuch, he wasn't technically delaying any cloture vote on the nomination. The real fight began Thursday, when Democratic senators united to block Gorsuch's nomination from advancing to a final up-or-down vote, forcing the GOP's hand: Either drop your nominee, or invoke the "nuclear option" by changing Senate rules to confirm him with only a simple majority. Minutes later, Republicans chose to do the latter.

This rare display of organized Democratic resistance is being met with criticism from all sides. A few progressives argue that the filibuster is being wasted on a quixotic battle, since Senate Republicans had signaled that they’re willing to "go nuclear." Others note that should Trump not end up resigning or being impeached, he will have a few more chances to nominate justices, some of whom could be more perceptibly conservative than Gorsuch, so why waste that tool now?

There has been some Republican hyperventilation over the Democratic filibuster, despite the GOP's refusal to even consider Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blew up any sense of normality in the Senate last year by leading the charge against Garland, but he recently called the Democratic resistance to Gorsuch a "new low," acting as if it's weird to oppose the nominee of a president who's under federal investigation. "It’s not too late for our Democratic colleagues to make the right choice," he told reporters. Former George W. Bush communications chief Nicolle Wallace piled on with an odd metaphor, offering that the minority party in the Senate was "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory." Wallace also called the filibuster effort "a silly fight for Democrats to pick."

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Wallace is wrong. Senate Democrats needed to filibuster Gorsuch, even if it didn't work, precisely because it's what their base needs to see — Democratic strength provoking Republican dysfunction, rather than the other way around. Sure, it would have been great for the party to demonstrate this kind of focus before the 2016 election. Voters wanted to see Democrats not just trenchantly defend liberal ideology and policy, but also end the calm, repulsive submission too many have shown in an effort to maintain a civil level of politics — like they did by allowing Republicans to control the terms of debate over Garland at every turn.

The enthusiasm young voters showed for Bernie Sanders's candidacy was fed by this frustration. The strongest, loudest element of today's progressive base is a generation that has learned politics almost purely through the lens of conflict and obstruction; the political figures who purportedly represent most of their interests have never shown enough passion to defend those interests. Those voters did not receive Obama's message of hope and change naively; they understand that Washington is about pugnacity as much as it is about possibility. Even if they lose this fight and Gorsuch is confirmed, Democrats must signal they are actually learning that some signs of life are required to drive up midterm voter turnout.

Showing some fight is one reason why this was a good idea for the Democrats, but there are more. On a practical level, Gorsuch is an unsuitable candidate because his politics are repellent, and the filibuster is a tool a minority party can use to stand in the way of legislation or nominees that it deems unacceptable. His bland, obtuse answers during his nomination hearings only encouraged further digging into a judicial history rife with controversial opinions and stances. He is allegedly a strict constitutionalist in the mode of Scalia, which should be anathema to any liberal who views the Constitution as a living document that needs to adapt to govern a modern society, not one in which people who looked like me were counted as three-fifths of a human being. Most assume Gorsuch wouldn't vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, but he hasn't supported women's rights in his prior opinions. A former student in his University of Colorado Law School class accused him of making sexist comments about maternity leave, and others are stepping up to support her account. He also reportedly plagiarized a portion of his 2006 book.

Republicans have tried to gaslight America about Gorsuch, proclaiming that it'd be crazy for Democrats to block him. Yet it's obvious that the Democratic opposition has more merit than the GOP obstructionism that stole the Garland nomination away from Obama. Democrats have all the justification they need to delay Trump's judicial nominees, especially those getting lifetime gigs. While Trump could be out of office by this time next year, Gorsuch may be wearing a justice robe on the Supreme Court until today's college students are driving their kids to school, if not longer. Even if Democrats can't stop that from happening, it's worth this fight to show their base that they at least give a shit.