The confirmation of President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, will happen. Senate Democrats, despite winning a one week delay on the final vote, appear ready to let it move forward. A “nuclear option” threat from Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed like just enough to stall Senate Democrats’ hopes of a dramatic filibuster.
Of course, civil rights leaders and Black elected officials had exhausted all public channels in voicing adamant opposition to Gorsuch. Civil rights leaders all lined up to lodge their official opposition to the relatively young Gorsuch’s footprint on the Supreme Court.
“If confirmed, Gorsuch’s lifelong appointment to the court would have serious consequences for all Americans, but especially African Americans and vulnerable communities,” wrote Congressional Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond (D-LA) in a last ditch and somewhat futile op-ed. “His judicial record on race and related matters and constitutional and equal rights litigation does not merit our support or the support of the Senate.”
Still, the CBC only has two members to deploy in the Senate (Cory Booker from New Jersey and Kamala Harris from California). Neither are in leadership chambers.
Civil rights advocates also tried.
There were calls to abruptly shut the confirmation process down – calls which seemed to fall on the deaf ears of Senate Democrats. Questions still loom over the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency and whether Russian government interlopers had anything to do with that. National Action Network’s Rev. Al Sharpton and Color of Change’s Rashad Robinson were urging a “hiring freeze” on all Trump nominations.
“There is a strong possibility that President Trump gained power through illegal means,” said Robinson. “His actions in office have been systemically destructive to our communities, and our rights as Americans. As long as these allegations remain unresolved we cannot in good conscience allow this administration to conduct business as usual.”
Others sought to rip holes in the Gorsuch civil rights’ record.
Advocates, sifting through years of Gorsuch case law, point out deep holes in the federal judge’s deliberations on everything core to traditional civil rights maintenance: employment protections, education equality, LGBTQ rights, and criminal justice reform. Most watched helplessly throughout the week as the Senate prepped for its final confirmation vote including many, like Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Executive Director Kristen Clarke, who reflected on Gorsuch’s time as Bush administration Deputy Associate Attorney General. “As a career attorney at the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department during this time, I am personally aware of issues that led to the politicization of the agency’s civil rights work,” said Clarke in Senate testimony.
However, there were no smoking guns. During his 4-day grilling before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch was evasive on everything from Brown v. Board of Education to Shelby v. Holder. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the committee’s ranking Dem, was visibly frustrated as he attempted to achieve some public record read on how Gorsuch felt about the landmark Shelby case that all but gutted the Voting Rights Act.
“Judge Alito and Judge Roberts answered some precedent questions,” queried Leahy. “Are you saying there are no precedent questions you could answer?”
“Well, no senator,” Gorsuch responded. “I’m happy to say Shelby is a precedent of the United States Supreme Court. It’s a recent one, it’s a controversial one. I understand that.”
Part of the problem, say some observers, is there was no real big movement against Gorsuch beyond press releases, press conferences and testimony. Despite “resistance” protests and activists jumping from one cable panel to the next, there was never any major defining event (no overwhelmed Capitol Hill phone lines, for example) turning the tide of public sentiment towards Gorsuch.
“Black political communities can ill afford to be reactionary and shortsighted,” Quinnipiac University’s Khalilah Brown-Dean told the AFRO. “They must approach these issues from a preemptive strategic vantage that doesn’t wait to protest a confirmation but works to shape the initial selection.”
“In short, this ain’t new. Black leaders must connect these dots and better communicate the links to constituents.”
Most voters, in fact, aren’t even paying attention – and much less the voting bloc with the most to lose: Black voters. A late February NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 47 percent didn’t “know enough” about Gorsuch. Most voters in a CBS News poll, 57 percent, were “undecided” or “hadn’t heard enough” about Gorsuch. Another NBC/Survey Monkey survey showed 54 percent of Americans wanting Gorsuch to receive an “up or down vote.”
The core constituency of civil rights groups and Black elected officials, Black voters, seemed noticeably oblivious. The most recent YouGov/Economist poll shows 36 percent of Black voters hearing “nothing at all” about Gorsuch versus 22 percent of whites (nearly 50 percent of Latinos heard nothing, either). When asked if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Gorsuch, 46 percent of Black respondents said “don’t know.”