Q&A With Utah Law Professor On Politicization of SC Justice Nomination Process

Feb 1, 2017

Credit Melinda Rogers

In a statement released following the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the US Supreme Court, Utah Senator Mike Lee says he believes Judge Gorsuch is a good pick for the Supreme Court. Lee had been mentioned as a possible nominee. Now he says he will do everything he can to make sure Gorsuch is confirmed by the Senate.

Joining us is University of Utah law professor RonNell Andersen Jones. She clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She’s been following the nomination process to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.

Miss Jones, what are you seeing as far as comparisons in those you spent time with or previous Supreme Court Justices compared to the current nominee? -Kerry

“Judge Gorsuch is widely regarded a solid, conservative candidate. There are actually a number of political science studies that have sort of judged his work as a judge, and his background, analyzed his ideology, and have put him essentially on the same spectrum as Justice Scalia, the Justice he would replace if confirmed by the Senate. So that puts him to the right of a number of other Republican nominees on the court, including Justice Kennedy, Chief Justice Roberts, and Justice Alito.”-RonNell

No surprise then that Utah’s delegation in Washington, D.C. seems to be supporting the nomination. -Kerry

“Yeah, I think that’s right. I actually think this nomination speaks to the Trump voting base in a really interesting way. There are a lot of folks, I think including Republicans in Utah, who voted for Trump sort of holding their nose on a lot of other issues regarding the candidate. But who felt strongly that the Supreme Court seat mattered, that it would drive their vote. In fact, polling suggests that people who voted for Trump, voted as sort of single issue voters, on the Supreme Court seat more than any other issue. And so the question of the ongoing legacy of Trump could have by placing somebody on the Court very young, this is a 49 year old judge, the youngest nominee in 25 years. So his legacy is likely to outlive a Trump administration by a long while. I think that is what’s earning the backing of both the Republican delegation in Utah, and Trump voters more widely.”-RonNell

How do you feel about the Supreme Court nominee, the Justice nominee, being so politicized? -Kerry

“It’s an interesting dynamic. And a dynamic that’s really, in some respects, a hold over to last year. The seat that Judge Gorsuch would fill was vacated almost a full calender year ago with the death of Justice Scalia. President Obama nominated Merrick Garland from the D.C. Court of Appeals to take that seat and was blocked by Republicans who wouldn’t move forward with a hearing. So what we see is a little bit of tit for tat going on here, that Democrats now are insisting, likely I think to insist that Judge Gorsuch will have to make the 60 vote threshold that’s needed in a Senate to overcome a filibuster for his confirmation to move forward. There is a lot of talk amongst Democrats that the seat was stolen from them, that it should’ve been a seat that Obama should’ve been able to fill. I think that adds to the politics of the situation." -RonNell

But some might say voters decided they wanted a Republican to make that selection, based on the outcome of the presidential race. -Kerry

“Certainly, even if they sort of pushed for the 60 vote threshold to overcome the filibuster, Republicans could, of course, escalate the parliamentary showdown. They are in a majority position. They occupy both the executive branch and the majority of the legislative branch. And President Trump has urged them to do so, to be willing to change the long standing rules and push through his nominee on a simple majority vote.They have the political clout to do so, the question is just how difficult Democrats are going to make it for them."-RonNell