The Supreme Court was a major issue during the 2016 Presidential and Senate elections. Now that the Republican Party was able to hold the Senate, and gain the presidency, President Trump has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the Honorable Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court.
We all know the story on Judge Gorsuch. He’s immensely qualified, originalist judge who will fill the void left by Justice Scalia.
In 2006 not a single Democrat senator voted against Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation to the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, based in Colorado. However, more than 10 years later, his nomination to the Supreme Court has caused a much greater stir to the senators left of center. With the context of Judge Merrick Garland’s spiked nomination by President Obama in an election year, many Senate Democrats feel that this is a stolen seat on the Supreme Court.
This poses the question of how center-left Democrats, many of whom are up for re-election in states that Trump won in 2016, vote? Furthermore, how will their votes affect their re-election odds?
Moderate Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have already confirmed they’ll be voting for Judge Gorsuch. Trump won both states by 35.8 and 41.6 points respectively. Trump won every single county in West Virginia, and all but two in North Dakota. Both states aren’t against voting Democrat, considering they both have Democrat senators, and West Virginia just elected a Democrat governor.
Regardless, this was a safe play for both senators. The conservative bases in both states will appreciate the vote, and it will keep more outside money out of the state once the election rolls around. Without question, its an immediate aid to their re-election bids.
I think it’d be wise for other Democrat senators to follow suit. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri come to mind. Trump won Missouri by 18.5 points, and Indiana by 19 points. Although Trump’s margin of victory in Indiana and Missouri aren’t as large as the margin in West Virginia or North Dakota, that is still a massive gap to bridge. Conservative organizations including the NRSC and Judicial Crisis Network have taken out ad buys urging Donnelly and McCaskill to vote for Gorsuch’s confirmation.
Voting against Gorsuch would almost certainly invite huge sums of outside money into their races, and anger the conservative bases in their states. Both Donnelly and McCaskill were elected due to similar comments about rape from their challengers in 2012. Now, their GOP challengers will not repeat the same mistakes. In Indiana, GOP Congressmen Luke Messer and Todd Rokita are primed to enter the race to unseat Donnelly. Regardless of who wins that primary, the GOP will have a great candidate to face Donnelly, and will surely pounce on him if he votes against Gorsuch.
In a bold move, Democrat Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin has stated she will vote against Gorsuch. Trump was not projected to win Wisconsin, but won by less than a point, while incumbent GOP Senator beat former Democrat Senator Russ Feingold by 3.4 points. This could come back to bite her during her re-election campaign, as Wisconsin GOP has proven to be a well oiled machine in terms of their grassroots operation. This race could be much closer than expected, and Baldwin isn’t making the situation any easier on herself.
Another incumbent who presumably should vote for Judge Gorsuch is Senator Jon Tester of Montana. Trump won Montana by 20.2 points in November. Senator Tester was critical of Judge Gorsuch’s response about campaign finance law during his hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has cast doubts over the way he’ll vote. I personally find this awfully funny, considering his implication in the Thornton Law Firm Campaign Finance Scandal, which resulted in him donating over $51,000 of the funds he illegally received back to the U.S. Treasury.
The special election to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s House seat will be an interesting insight into Senator Tester’s re-election campaign. Montana’s congressional district is at-large, so it is a statewide race, featuring GOP candidate Greg Gianforte, and Democrat Rob Quist. Both have never held political office, and it should be a good indicator of the political climate in Montana, a year and a half before the 2018 elections.
This vote will come too soon for Senator Tester to know the results of the special election. Thus, I believe it would be wise for him to vote to confirm Judge Gorsuch to have his bases covered.
Another thing to consider for these incumbents to consider is the cost of voting for Gorsuch. If they vote for him, they may face costly primaries from the left, which will drain their campaign coffers before they even face their GOP opponents.
Other than the Senators listed, I believe that the rest of the votes will fall along party lines. Eventually, Senate Majority Leader McConnell may decide to go “Nuclear,” which would create new precedent, and dichotomy in the upper chamber of the Federal legislature.
Its impossible to predict how this scenario would play out for the GOP if this occurs. Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed, but what else will transpire during the rest of the Congress? There are a million possibilities, and every single one has different implications on the 2018 elections.
One thing is certain, and that’s that this vote to confirm Gorsuch is one that will be heavily scrutinized leading up to the next election.
If Senators Donnelly, McCaskill, and Tester vote against Gorsuch, then they’re welcoming a much tougher re-election campaign, in what could prove to be a very difficult climate. Although voter turnout is depressed in midterm election years, normally in favor of the party without power, the GOP and its campaign arms are winning the fundraising battle. Additionally, all it takes is one tweet from President Trump to mobilize millions of voters across the country.
One thing is certain: after the 2016 elections, anything can happen. I am looking forward to seeing how this situation will play out, and I look forward to seeing Judge Gorsuch confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice of the United States.