An opinion piece by SGPIA alum, Rose Worden
On Wednesday, November 9 2016, my sister and I commiserated over the phone. The unfathomable election of Donald Trump as President had somehow come to pass.
So much felt uncertain, but we saw the Supreme Court vacancy as an issue with high stakes and long-term consequences that, although contentious, didn’t seem to be as much a target for awareness-raising or activism as other issues. Within a week, we came up with a letter-writing campaign, and made a website (SCOTUSletter.net) with links to petitions calling for the confirmation of President Obama-nominated candidate, Merrick Garland, and form letters (editable Word Docs ready to mail with no envelope needed) requesting that his nomination be honored, either through a confirmation process or by recess appointment. We included contact info for all US Senators, highlighting Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and added links to easily copy, paste and send our message to the Obama White House and Trump transition team, and to tweet directly at Donald Trump.
As the United States experiences its fifth week with President Trump at the helm, early speculation about the durability of our democratic institutions has spurned action from many, with concerned constituents targeting their elected officials in the Senate demanding they oppose many of the President’s actions. Chief among them have been his selection of a cabinet of misfits; a public education secretary with no experience in public education; an oil executive as Secretary of State, and right-wing propagandist Steve Bannon as chief strategist, elevated to a position on the National Security Council (perhaps the bungled result of an oversight).
The installation of people to key positions in the administration who lack experience in government and have baldly conflicting interests is concerning, and represents a unique challenge. Much of the business of governing occurs by tacit agreement to operate within established norms. During the Obama administration, Republicans carried out an obstructionist agenda, going so far as to allow the government to shut down in one maneuver, hijacking government functionality for political gain. President Trump, just five weeks into his presidency, has shown indifference toward the longstanding traditions of deliberation in government, isolating himself from experts and preferring to make snap-judgement decisions with little oversight, inciting chaos and disruption by his executive decrees.
In this environment of uncertainty, Democrats have tended to cooperate, confirming most of Trump’s cabinet nominees to the chagrin of many of their constituents; despite disagreement, they do not want to be viewed as employing the same tactics which they have previously opposed. In this context, debate has arisen over whether Democrats should merely accept President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, or not. The Solicitor General under Barack Obama, Neal Katyar, has argued that liberals should accept President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch for his eminent qualifications and the likelihood that he “will not compromise principle to favor the president who appointed him.” Some Senate Democrats coming up for reelection have been reluctant to support a filibuster, which would impose a sixty-vote threshold in the senate to confirm him. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer have repeatedly remarked that such a filibuster would represent an unacceptable departure from the norm.
Republicans have fundamentally altered the rules of the game, however, by refusing, for an unprecedented 294 days, to hold a hearing on Merrick Garland’s nomination, and it is unlikely that a seamless confirmation of Neil Gorsuch would incentivize Republicans to cooperate in the future. Moreover, the GOP have signaled, through constant obstructionism, that their strategy is to “always defect” — in the parlance of game theory — rather than cooperate on issues in the short term. Denying the disruptive effects of Republican obstructionism to the norms that typify democratic governance belies a worse problem. Democracy is on the decline globally, and, as Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz of the Washington Post report, evidence also shows that autocracies tend to maintain some aspects of democratic institutions “to enhance the durability of their regimes.”
As President Trump continues to assail the public with his rampant lies, while Republicans refuse to put the long-term interests of our society over their own short-term political goals, the role of the public as a political force becomes paramount to maintain the integrity of our democratic institutions. The Democrats should oppose the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court for it being the illegitimate result of political machination. Having lost the popular vote by millions, Trump does not hold a mandate to swing the court in a conservative direction.
Now, after weeks of witnessing how Trump handles inquiries and facts, our websiteand Twitter are dedicated primarily to targeting Senate Democrats, and encouraging them to oppose the nomination of Neil Gorsuch on the grounds that it matters that the nomination was stolen, and it should not have been.
At SCOTUSletter.net, you will find contact information for all US Senators, and a printable form letter (ready for post with no envelope needed) requesting that Senate Democrats remain steadfast or join their colleagues in opposition to confirming Neil Gorsuch, or any other nominee to the Supreme Court who is not Merrick Garland or does not possess a similar record of being a moderate. You will also find links to follow us on Twitter and share the site with your followers. Democratic Senators who have shown an unwillingness to filibuster and need some encouragement include Senators Chris Coons (DE), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Joe Manchin (WV), Dick Durbin (IL), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), Joe Donnelly (IN), and Jeanne Shaheen (NH).
Senators who have either vocally opposed or expressed a willingness to filibuster the nomination include: Sherrod Brown (OH), Ron Wyden (OR), Jeff Merkley (OR), Ed Markey (MA), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), former Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Their comments can be found here. It is crucial that we show our support to these Senators, and try and persuade others to join them.
We demand a moderate SCOTUS nominee be put forth, to ensure the deliberation that is an essential feature of our democracy, and resist the deliberate hijacking of government institutions for the exploitation of right-wing political gains. The decisions being taken in the first few weeks of the current administration are already having extreme effects and will carry a lasting impact into the future. We all have an obligation to #ResistTrump.
Our campaign continues to evolve with changing political realities, and we encourage everyone to get involved. You can find us tweeting about this critical issue from our own account, here.
Rose Worden is a researcher and SGPIA alum. She holds a BA in Global Security Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her research focuses on conflict-affected states. In her spare time, she tweets incessantly about the 2016 presidential election outcome, and global development.
Follow her @rswrdn.