WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR MEDIA) — Pres. Donald J. Trump’s recent flurry of executive action will lead many to interpret tonight’s Supreme Court nomination spectacle as just another checked administrative box.
This is likely the biggest decision Mr. Trump will make all year—possibly for years to come.
U.S. presidents occupy the Oval Office for four to eight years, a meager tenure compared to the decades Supreme Court justices usually spend on the bench during lifetime appointments, often outliving the administrations and executives who put them there.
Indeed, a president’s most consequential choices are often the justices they choose rather than legislation passed on their watch.
It’s the court’s nine justices, after all, who will decide the legality of issues like abortion, affirmative action and immigration bans.
Trumped up drama
Whether for dramatic flourish or from true indecision, Mr. Trump reportedly summoned two finalists, federal appeals court Judges Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman, to Washington for the big reveal on Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. ET.
Only one of them will be “hired.”
One day prior, Mr. Trump declared that he’d made his decision, saying his pick was “unbelievably highly respected.”
By Tuesday morning, he seemed to waver, if media reports are to be believed.
If the president did, in fact, already make his selection on Monday, an awfully powerful federal judge just made a long trip to serve as a proverbial drumroll leading up to the announcement.
Filibuster fight looms
Senate Democrats don’t know who the nominee will be, but some are already vowing to block the nomination through a filibuster.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said he’ll stonewall a vote on anyone other than DC Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland, who President Obama nominated in early 2016 and Republicans blocked for nearly a year.
In the event of a filibuster, Republicans would have to come up with 60 votes (including eight Democrats) to confirm the Trump nominee, which appears very unlikely.
GOP leaders’ last resort would be the so-called “nuclear option,” which, with the support of 51 Republicans, would change Senate rules to allow SCOTUS confirmations with only a slim 51-vote majority.
Since Republicans hold 52 Senate seats, that would do the trick.
But several insiders are warning Democrats against initiating a no-win filibuster fight.
The Washington Post’s editorial board urged Dems to avoid the bait:
…The Supreme Court confirmation process needs to be protected from partisan politics to the greatest extent possible and that a scorched-earth Democratic response to any nominee, regardless of the individual merits, would simply deepen that harmful politicization. Yes, Mr. Trump seeks to fill the court’s vacancy to his liking, on the basis of a thin electoral college-only victory. Still, however narrow, his victory was legitimate and he does have the clear constitutional prerogative to make the choice.
Each of the Senate’s 48 Democratic and Independent members will have to decide the best tactical move for themselves and their party.
They’ll have a while to mull it over as the nominee submits a lengthy background questionnaire, begins courtesy calls on Capitol Hill to woo senators and appears for confirmation hearings.
In all likelihood, a new Trump-appointed justice will join the Supreme Court in the spring.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales