Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

The Biggest Success of Trump’s First 100 Days: Justice Neil Gorsuch

Assessments of a president’s first hundred days are largely a meaningless metric invented by story-hungry media.  But in this case, President Trump has been able to rack up such a significant accomplishment in this short time that we can already be confident it will be remembered as one of the landmark accomplishments of his entire presidency: he appointed a superbly qualified, highly principled jurist to the Supreme Court.

To pull off a wildly successful Supreme Court confirmation in the face of unprecedented partisan opposition is hard enough.  To do it starting only ten days after taking office is exceptional.  But this confirmation was important for an additional reason as well: putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court fulfilled one of Trump’s most important campaign promises.  Big-league.

One of the countless ways in which the past campaign season was unique was the focus given to the Supreme Court.  Having a pending vacancy gave the candidates a ready-made opportunity to talk about that most-significant but much-ignored presidential power of judicial nominations.  And candidate Trump capitalized on that opportunity by issuing a list of potential nominees that took the discussion of judicial appointments from the typical realm of feel-good rhetoric to a discussion real-life judges whose actual judicial philosophies were available for public scrutiny.  Voters didn’t have to speculate about whether Trump’s team would be able to identify jurists in the mold of the Justice Scalia.  It already had.

That bold move has often been cited as the key to President Trump’s electoral victory.  According to exit polls, over one fifth of voters said the Supreme Court was the most important issue for them, and those voters broke decidedly for Trump.  For many people who had not chosen Trump in the primaries the prospect of Hillary Clinton appointing Justice Scalia’s replacement on the Court was a deciding factor in their choice to pull the lever for him in November.  And I can’t tell you how many Trump skeptics I have spoken to since the Gorsuch confirmation who said that his appointment alone was enough to convince them that voting for this president was the right thing to do. 

I heartily agree. 

President Obama’s executive orders are already out the window.  His signature legislative accomplishment is on the chopping block.  But Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, the two justices he appointed to the Supreme Court, will be helping shape our constitutional system for decades to come.  Whatever else President Trump accomplishes, Justice Gorsuch’s commitment to the rule of law and the Constitution will leave an indelible mark.

I hope to see many other great things out of this administration, but you couldn’t ask for a more successful beginning: fulfilling a top campaign promise, safeguarding the legacy of Justice Scalia, and helping preserving fidelity to the Constitution for a generation to come.  Here’s to the next hundred days.

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