Amid Trump Chaos, Republicans Keep Their Eyes on the Big Prize: The Courts

“Control the Supreme Court, stack the judiciary, and you can stop the progressive movement… for decades,” Corey Robin wrote

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-15-2017

Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, swears in Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. Photo: Public domain

While the Trump administration remains embroiled in scandals of its own making and continues to blunder forward seemingly without direction, Republicans have their collective gaze fixed on a prize they have coveted for years: complete domination of the judiciary.

This goal, thanks to years of obstructionism, may be just on the horizon.

As Esquire‘s Charles Pierce notes, President Trump has effectively “subcontracted the job of picking judges to the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, and various other wingnut intellectual chop shops.” Three of the finalists—Kevin Newsom, Damien Schiff, and John Bush—sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday for their confirmation hearings, which were scarcely mentioned by the press.

Much of the questioning, as NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported, ultimately centered around blog posts two of the nominees—Bush and Schiff—had written throughout their careers.

“Among the posts Bush said he now regrets is one that equated the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision, which upheld slavery, with the Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion,” Totenberg noted.

Schiff has a similarly tinged history, Totenberg added, “challenging everything from environmental regulations, to health and safety laws, to gay rights laws.”

Since the hearings came to a close on Wednesday, commentators have expressed alarm about how little attention the fact that individuals with such records could soon fill the ranks of the judiciary is receiving from the media and the Democratic Party.

“Wednesday’s confirmation hearing for three of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees may lack the intrigue of James Comey’s blockbuster testimony,” wrote Politico‘s Kyle Barry, “but for anyone who cares about the integrity and independence of America’s courts, the stakes could hardly be higher.”

Barry continued:

Trump’s initial nominees to fill more than 120 lower court vacancies—many of which exist only because the Republican Senate refused to act on the qualified nominations put forth by President Barack Obama—foretell a Trump-stacked judiciary that would clear the way for constitutionally suspect executive actions, shield corporate wrongdoers from accountability, and imperil the civil rights of all Americans.

Political theorist and author Corey Robin, in an piece for the Guardian on Thursday, expressed similar urgency, arguing “elite sectors” of the Republican Party have remained faithful to Trump only because of the leverage he gives them to stack the courts in their favor.

“Trump has gotten one supreme court appointment, he may well get more, and he’s moved more quickly on lower-court appointments than Obama did,” Robin wrote. The legal arm of the conservative movement is probably the best organized, most far-reaching and far-seeing sector of the right. They truly are playing—and have been playing—the long game.”

If progressives don’t respond quickly with a similarly organized and long-term approach, Robin warned, the results could be disastrous, potentially hindering civil rights and dealing a vicious blow to workers and the environment.

“Control the Supreme Court, stack the judiciary, and you can stop the progressive movement, no matter how popular it is, no matter how much legislative power it has, for decades.”

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