What you heard:
President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, which has had a vacancy for nearly a year.
What it is:
Judge Neil Gorsuch currently sits on the 10th Circuit US Court of Appeals. He’s highly educated (Columbia, Harvard Law, Oxford), clerked for a few Supremes (White, Kennedy) a few decades ago, and has served on the 10th Circuit Court (located in Denver, CO) since 2006. Like many of Trump’s picks, he’s a rich white guy. Unlike many SCOTUS justices, he’s young (49), with 3+ decades on the Court ahead of him.
The Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) is the court to end all courts. There are nine SCOTUS judges (occasionally eight when the GOP Senate breaks 200 years of precedent and flouts the Constitution), and they act as the final say when it comes to interpreting federal law. Sometimes they refuse to hear a case, sometimes they quietly rule unanimously, and sometimes they give the presidency to George W. Bush.
There has been a vacancy on the Supreme Court for nearly a year, ever since Scalia died unexpectedly on 2/13/16 (I still remember where I was – do you? I’m not even joking: we were driving somewhere and stopped at a gas station when I got the WaPo alert on my phone). President Obama chose Merrick Garland: an incredibly qualified, respected judge that at any other time would have passed confirmation with ease. However, Senate Republicans decided to throw the Constitution away by refusing to grant a hearing for Garland, and in doing so, completely shattered the idea of an independent judiciary. They decided that the legislature should be able to control the Court, and even talked about blocking any of Clinton’s nominees for another four years if she was to win. Fuckers.
What it means:
There is a lot of chatter about what the Senate Dems will do at this juncture. People are very excited about a potential filibuster (the romanticized version of which is Senators trading places on the floor to speak endlessly about nothing in order to prevent a vote, but in reality just means that if 40+ Senators want to block a vote, they can, without any exciting speeches). If that happened, this nomination means that Judge Gorsuch will be able to put “Supreme Court nominee” on his resume, but he’ll languish, unconfirmed, and won’t ever be a Justice.
However, what I think this nomination means is a change in Senate rules and the end of the filibuster (this is generally called the “nuclear option”). I just don’t see a world in which this GOP Majority says “oh shucks, good job on the filibuster guys” and doesn’t do its best to continue to destroy the crucial infrastructure of the American government.
*Pauses to climb on soapbox*
At the end of the day, what this nomination means is that Neil Gorsuch will be our first truly, undeniably partisan judge, in a seat that 54 Republicans stole from one of the most popular Presidents in history. They undermined the entire judiciary system and brought it under their control in a blatant power grab, and Gorsuch’s seat will be remembered as the illegitimate one that it is.
What could happen:
President Trump campaigned on an anti-choice, anti-Roe, anti-women platform and promised that he would appoint a justice who shared those views; it should come as no surprise that Neil Gorsuch fits that characterization pretty well. Gorsuch ruled on Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, which you may remember more familiarly as “the Hobby Lobby case” that determined bigotry hiding under the claim of “religious freedom” was more important than a woman’s right to comprehensive healthcare. Hobby Lobby argued that they are a private corporation owned by a family that doesn’t believe in birth control for religious reasons, so they shouldn’t have to pay for a health insurance that covers it for employees. Neil Gorsuch agreed with this, citing the old passage we know so well:
Discrimatus Womenelius 3:16: And yea, the heavens opened unto Hobby Lobby and said, “Women totally shouldn’t be having sex unless it’s to make a baby, which is really their only useful contribution to society, so punish all those sluts by taking away their birth control and make them live with the consequences. Even if they aren’t actually sluts but victims of rape. Even then too. Because they probably were asking for it with that skirt.”
While Gorsuch has never ruled directly on abortion, his history of putting corporations ahead of women doesn’t bode well for a woman’s right to healthcare or reproductive freedom. We’ve already broached the “birth control is antithetical to my religion” subject, which is a slippery slope to “paying for parental leave is antithetical to my religion” or “letting a woman work while she’s on her devil period is antithetical to my religion.” If you think that’s crazy, just remember that a team of lawyers once managed to convince the Supreme Court that corporations are people.
Directly overturning Roe would mean abandoning 40+ years of judicial precedent, and I think that it would be fairly difficult to do. What I think is more likely is a piece-by-piece dismantling of Roe. For example, laws are regularly introduced in state legislatures that would require a pregnant woman have the father’s approval before having an abortion. Can you imagine having to get your rapists approval before shedding a bundle of un-feeling, un-thinking cells that, if you don’t shed now, will eventually grow up to be a child that everyday reminds you of your rapist? This is a law that I can imagine Gorsuch upholding in the name of the father’s/rapist’s religious freedom.
The Court has been a moderating experience for many judges; let’s hope the same holds true for Gorsuch. If not? Start sterilizing your coat hangers, ladies.