Hearing set for justice nominee

By Clarissa Hinshaw

DeKALB — As his confirmation hearings approach, students have developed opinions about President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch was nominated to the Supreme Court by Trump Jan. 31. Confirmation hearings will begin March 20. The Supreme Court is the final hearing for many cases and lawsuits. The role of a Supreme Court justice is to determine constitutionality in congressional laws and lawsuits.

Gorsuch serves on the federal appeals court. He has the reputation of being a solid, conservative judge and is seen as well-qualified, according to a Jan. 31 NPR article.

Artemus Ward, political science associate professor, said he and some colleagues have done research on Gorsuch and his voting records. They found him to be more conservative than former Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Feb. 13, 2016. Ward said this will likely come up during the confirmation hearings and may be problematic.

“He is extremely conservative, so this is exactly what the Trump base wants,” Ward said. “The fact that he is Trump’s nominee is problematic. Trump is the most unpopular president this early in his tenure in modern times, so these developments are likely to get worse.”

A simple majority vote of 51 percent is needed in the Senate to confirm Gorsuch. Ward said two things could likely happen during the confirmation hearings: Senate Democrats could filibuster, or Senate Republicans could invoke the nuclear option.

Filibusters are used to delay or halt legislative action, according to Senate.gov. Currently, 60 Senate votes are needed to stop a filibuster and proceed with the Senate vote. Republicans hold a majority of 52 senators, so they would need eight Democratic or independent senators to stop a filibuster.

Ward said if Democratic Senators filibuster, Republicans can proceed with the hearing by invoking a nuclear option, which refers to changing the rules so only 50 votes are needed to stop a filibuster.

Law professor Mark Cordes said this new rule would remain when Trump leaves office, which could be problematic for Republicans in the long-term.

“Using the nuclear option [will have] long-term consequences for both parties and will make it more difficult to oppose appointment justices, impose major problems and make contentious hearings even more contentious,” Cordes said.

Cordes said if Republican Senators decide to use the nuclear option, it will stay in place for future court appointments, meaning a Democratic president and Senate after Trump could confirm future nominees with a simple majority.

There are currently four conservative-leaning justices and four liberal-leaning justices. One of the conservative justices appointed by former President Ronald Reagan is conservative but known as a swing judge.

Although Gorsuch would be replacing another conservative justice, Cordes said he is concerned about what could happen if another vacancy occurs during Trump’s presidency, especially while Republicans have a majority in the Senate.

Former President Bill Clinton’s appointments Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are 83 and 78 years old, respectively, and swing judge Anthony Kennedy is 80. Once appointed, justices serve lifetime terms, allowing them to potentially influence cases for decades. If another spot becomes vacant during Trump’s presidency and another nominee is confirmed in the place of one of these justices, the court could become imbalanced, Cordes said.

“I think the people often forget how significant of a part this is in presidential elections,” Cordes said. “[Court appointments] can have a major impact on very important issues. I think, if you do see a shift take place over the course of the Trump presidency, it will be much more at the forefront [of voting decisions] for the liberal side.”

Kaitlyn Harper, junior political science major, said if the Supreme Court becomes imbalanced, the results could influence more students to vote in elections if a ruling affecting them occurs.

“If people are displeased with a ruling and it opens people’s eyes to how a presidential election can impact our Supreme Court, then perhaps [this] would have a lasting effect on the presidential elections to come,” Harper said.