There are several versions of the famous question from the fairy tale, “Snow White.” “Magic mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Whether the line begins with “magic mirror” or “mirror, mirror” or even “magic mirror in my hand,” the most interesting word in the question is the word “fairest.”
The Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm classic was originally published in 1812 as part of a collection of folk stories. The word “fair” was contextual in 19th century Germany as a word that means “beautiful,” not pale skinned or of a light complexion. It’s a bit confusing given the title character’s name. “Fair” is a simple word that we all learn as children, and then spend much of the rest of our lives manipulating its simple meaning.
Which leads me to the big move of the week in Washington. Our new president made his first nomination to the Supreme Court. This is a job designed in part to preserve the rule of law, something many of us equate to words like justice, and yes, fairness.
Judge Neil Gorsuch is our president’s nominee. He serves on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, went to all the best schools, has had all the best jobs, and blah, blah, blah. He has the resume. He clerked for the current court’s only identifiable “swing voter,” Justice Anthony Kennedy. He doesn’t seem to be the worst choice that could have been made. That is remarkable in and of itself, given the seemingly unprecedented ability of those in the White House to make bad, and I mean really bad, choices.
I will admit that Judge Gorsuch is a better pick than I expected.
So what is with the campaign ads? I trust many of you have seen them on TV or social media.
The Judicial Crisis Network, or JCN, has decided that the American public needs to see commercials selling us on what an all around great guy the nominee is. I’m pretty sure the JCN media buy was not national though. I predict these ridiculous ads are running exclusively in states with Democrat senators who are up for reelection in 2018. Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly fits that bill.
What is the JCN? When it was founded during the President George W. Bush years, the “C” stood for “confirmation.” During the President Barack Obama years, they changed it to “crisis” so they wouldn’t have to go through the heartache of changing their branding entirely. After all, they have more important things to do with their money then replace the stationary on their fundraising operation.
The JCN is a conservative dark money group that raises money to influence judicial and attorneys general campaigns across the country. Contributions to it do not need to be disclosed publicly, so its donors are a bit mysterious. But it won’t take a genius to figure out the demographic it represents.
Appointments to the court aren’t decided by voters though, at least not directly. The function of the ads in Indiana only serve to set up an issue for 2018 if the Democrat senator from here votes against confirmation. It’s the beginning of an intimidation strategy. Nothing more.
The designated arena for debate on Gorsuch’s confirmation is the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then the full body of that chamber. He will either pass the test there or he won’t. Engaged Americans will base their opinions on him from that exercise. Those who aren’t engaged are suckers for things like ad campaigns and partisan spin machines. And these are the people who are targets of the JCN.
In the days following Gorsuch’s nomination, I have already seen more campaign scrum than I did during the months long blockade of Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination. And the path to confirmation in 2017 is all but clear. The Democrats could try to filibuster the nomination if they want, but that will only result in a simple rule change in the Senate and a simple majority vote.
What the Senate did to block Garland’s appointment process was unprecedented. Save the retorts. There is no alternative fact. But the Democrats don’t have the power to blockade in kind.
The JCN and the ad campaign is an undignified attempt to manipulate the Supreme Court appointment process. Ignore it. This campaign is not about fairness, or justice, or the rule of law. It’s about partisanship, and unnecessarily so.
Does Judge Gorsuch himself approve of the JCN tactics? His answer to that will be a real indicator if he deserves to serve among the fairest of them all. Mirror, mirror on the wall, we are on the edge of our seats.