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Picking Our Fights

Chuck Schumer has a dilemma, I have a dilemma, only the chronically passive and the perennially resistant (and of course Republicans) don’t have a dilemma. Donald Trump has signed some executive orders that threaten our environment or vulnerable refugees, immigrants, and citizens of both our and other countries. Protests have been vigorous, such as those against the call for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico,  or the threat to cut off federal funding to sanctuary cities, or an order to suspend immigration and entry into the U.S. for people from seven Muslim countries. Many of these protests have been effective in reversing ill-thought out aspects of these orders  and other presidential actions, enrolling further public support , such as donations to the ACLU for challenging the immigration order in court, ending gag orders for several governmental agencies, returning climate data to the EPA website, allowing green card holders to enter the country, exempting the VA from the federal hiring freeze. Not all of these effects is solely due to vocal protests against administration policies, but such protests were a factor in all of them. So protesting matters.

But now for the dilemma. Trump has nominated a respected but highly conservative judge to the Supreme Court. Neil Gorsuch is reputed to be a constitutional “originalist” in the tradition of Judge Antonin Scalia. His previous decisions have favored religious rights over health or women’s concerns and have opposed the regulatory rights of the federal government. These are mainstream conservative judicial positions, but they signal a likelihood of coming down on the side of corporations and against the rights of women or LBGT citizens if such issues come up during his court tenure. How vigorously and in what form should both Democratic congressmen and ordinary citizens who disagree with Judge Gorsuch’s philosophy oppose his nomination?

Democrats don’t have enough votes to prevent Gorsuch’s confirmation. If they filibuster, the Republicans can invoke the so-called nuclear option and put an end to filibusters against Supreme Court nominations forever. A future nominee, should events require one during Trump’s term of office, would likely be even more right-leaning than Gorsuch and Democrats would have no filibuster available. So the Democrats, by filibustering the Gorsuch candidacy, could forfeit their strongest tool, as a minority in the Senate, to use against a worse candidate in the future. In addition, given the generally positive reaction, at least so far, by much of the mainstream media to Gorsuch’s nomination, the Democrat’s could lose support of independents and moderates by appearing to be vindictive or uncooperative.

On the other hand, it’s absolutely vital to keep up the opposition to Donald Trump and his policies. To ignore an opportunity for rallying the liberal/progressive base against a SCOTUS nominee that is anathema to their views, those who oppose Trump run the risk of losing momentum in the push to arouse the public in opposition to his authoritarian presidency.

The dilemma is whether to pull out all stops in opposing the current SCOTUS nominee or to question his views, even protest against them, vote against him, but allow his appointment. It  seems to me that, given that presidents choose Supreme Court judges that agree with them and Neil Gorsuch is not an extreme ideologue, there are other issues, such as the ongoing Muslim ban, the stripping away of environmental regulations, and upcoming orders giving religion special status that deserve greater opposition. Opposing these actions has a better chance of opening people’s eyes to the destruction caused by President Trump’s policies. It might be better to focus on these other issues.


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