Thirty years ago, filmmaker James Brooks wrote and directed a biting, prophetic and painfully funny takedown of American television journalism called Broadcast News. In one of the better moments in the movie, a frustrated news producer played by Albert Brooks expressed his dismay to a colleague (played by Holly Hunter) about the rise of a vacuous, but attractive and popular news anchor (William Hurt):
“…please don’t get me wrong when I tell you that Tom, while being a very nice guy, is the Devil….What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around?…Come on! Nobody is going to be taken in by a guy with a long, red, pointy tail! What’s he gonna sound like?…No. I’m semi-serious here. He will be attractive! He’ll be nice and helpful. He’ll get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation. He’ll never do an evil thing! He’ll never deliberately hurt a living thing… he will just bit by little bit lower our standards where they are important.”
Today, of course, American journalism has a lot more serious problems than the phenomenon of empty-headed news anchors, but if Brooks were to make a film in 2017 about an important American institution on the brink, he wouldn’t have much trouble finding a use for Albert Brooks’ little speech. The obvious target today would be Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch.
A pleasant, attractive…and extremely dangerous nominee
The notion that Neil Gorsuch is the 2017 version of the Devil incarnate is in many ways, of course, a tad hyperbolic. At last check, the Colorado judge, like William Hurt’s news anchor character, is a nice guy. He does not appear to have any obvious plans or intentions to help overthrow the government, establish a network of concentration camps or launch a thermonuclear war. Unlike so many of Trump’s cronies, he is not, by all indications, personally corrupt or a blatant liar.
And yet, that said, there is every reason to conclude that Gorsuch is a thoroughly dreadful nominee and, by far, the worst and most dangerous thing that the new president has attempted to foist on the American people since he took office.
Think about it: For all of the terrible actions Trump has inflicted on the country thus far – his anti-immigrant orders; his assaults on access to health care, environmental protection, LGBT equality, the social safety net, openness in government and consumer protection; his junta of a cabinet; and his generally moronic and outrageous personal behavior – none is likely to have the lasting impact of the Gorsuch nomination.
For the most part, Trump’s executive orders and corrupt and incompetent appointees are impermanent. Many will never actually take effect or make much of a real mark. The bet here is that Betsy DeVos won’t last two years as Education Secretary.
Gorsuch, on the other hand, will, if confirmed, have a destructive and lasting impact. Indeed, if any of Trump’s orders and edicts do take effect and stay on the books for a prolonged period, it is likely to be thanks to a Justice Gorsuch and other right-wingers on the nation’s highest tribunal.
Last month, the nonpartisan Court watchers at the Alliance for Justice released a powerful 63-page dissection of the nominee, his record and his philosophy that paints a damning portrait. Here are some excerpts from “The Gorsuch Record”:
“Throughout his life, Judge Gorsuch has been driven by an ultraconservative ideology. In fact, Neil Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy is clear. In his own words, he believes that judges should “strive . . . to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward.” It is no surprise that he has been a vocal critic of courts advancing core constitutional rights, such as the right to marry and essential rights for women; and as a judge, he has consistently voted to undermine essential rights and legal protections. Judge Gorsuch’s view of the Constitution is one that would indeed take our nation ‘backward’ to an earlier era, where women, people of color, persons with disabilities, workers, LGBTQ Americans, and those interacting with the criminal justice system have fewer rights and legal protections….
Judge Gorsuch has repeatedly shown hostility toward the efforts of vulnerable populations to use the courts to protect their constitutional rights. He has, moreover, consistently downplayed constitutional abuses by government officials. And he has placed the rights of corporations over those of other Americans, weakened critical acts of Congress, and advocated for overturning long established legal doctrines that ensure the federal government can properly enforce protections for the American people.”
The report goes on to spell out dozens of areas in which Gorsuch will almost assuredly work and vote to take the nation backwards. These include:
- The power of corporations,
- Government illegality and overreach vis a vis individuals subjected to abuse,
- Workers’ rights,
- Equal opportunity,
- Consumer protection,
- Reproductive freedom, including the right to an abortion and access to contraception,
- The rights of children and workers with disabilities,
- LGBTQ rights,
- The rights of immigrants,
- Campaign finance law,
- Separation of church and state,
- Environmental protection,
- Criminal justice – including the rights of criminal defendants, the rights of prisoners, excessive police force, searches and seizures and criminal sentencing,
- The rights of Native Americans, and
- The right to die.
In each of these areas and others, Gorsuch’s record is that of a man who will vote to uphold and extend Trumpism. The report concludes this way:
“While his resume may be objectively impressive, his ideology is disqualifying. Time and again, we found evidence of Judge Gorsuch’s ideological pursuit of legal outcomes that systematically denigrate the rights of everyday people. While this is never desirable, it is even more disturbing at a time when the rights and freedoms of so many communities face heightened threats on a daily basis.
…We believe that a thorough analysis will lead to the same conclusion we have reached: that Neil Gorsuch is the wrong choice for a position that demands its occupants embrace the philosophy that the Constitution protects all of us, not just the wealthy and powerful.” (Emphasis suppled.)
Trump seeks to complete and cement a theft
Next Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch to fill the 13-month old Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia. Right now, the betting money seems to be on Gorsuch winning approval.
If this happens, it will be a disastrous development for the Court itself and the long-term state of the Constitution and, thanks to the unconscionable Republican blockade of President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, another powerful blow against our democracy.
As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt explained a few weeks back, the Garland blockade was a shameful and unprecedented theft and a new and dangerous low in American politics. It prevented a properly-seated President from carrying out his constitutional duty under the farcical excuse that the American people needed to “have their say” on the matter.
“The refusal was a raw power grab. Coupled with Republican hints that no Hillary Clinton nominee would be confirmed either, it was a fundamental changing of the rules: Only a party that controlled both the White House and the Senate would now be able to assume it could fill a Supreme Court vacancy.
The change is terribly damaging for the country’s political system. It impedes the smooth functioning of the court and makes it a much more partisan institution.”
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that the American people did have their say: Millions more voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. Unfortunately and predictably, however, the avaricious and ends-justify-the-means vision of government embraced by modern Trumpists is only about “winning” – not justice.
In such an environment, it is incumbent upon the millions of Americans (and North Carolinians) who say they want to resist the nation’s current fling with despotism to push back. It may be an uphill fight, but given the stakes, it would be a travesty not to try.