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Many have had to crawl through the week anxiously awaiting some concrete answers in regards to the open Supreme Court position. It’s a place that needs to be filled, and the Trump administration successfully advocated for Judge Neil Gorsuch to assume the seat of honor. But back up…the position opened during Obama’s last term, when Judge Antonin Scalia passed away 14 months ago. A lot of people were of the opinion that Obama ought to decide who would fill the suddenly gaping hole in the branch that has the final word on all necessary matters concerning laws of Congress and the Constitution itself. Given such crucial functions, the deciding of a new Judge is clearly a big deal. But more than that, such a nominee will serve as a pivotal weight on the Supreme Court’s scale of it’s members ideological loyalties. Well, the GOP motioned to postpone a nomination until Trump assumed presidency. And now, still feeling the sting of having the nominee that Obama supported brushed aside, each of the 48 democratic member of the senate is fighting tooth and nail to keep Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, from ascending from his original place in Denver, Colorado to the Supreme Court. However, even Senator Merkley’s 15 hour-long filibuster got swept away by the 52 republican members as they altered the voting system so that instead of requiring 60 votes cast in their favor, all nominees for Executive Branch positions and federal courts (which includes Gorsuch) will find victory in a simple majority. Why is this such a big deal? Mostly because the imbalance Gorsuch will bring to the fulcrum of Supreme Court ideologies; he has a noticeably conservative track record based on his Denver court of appeals. His election will return the Supreme Court to five knowingly conservative-voting justices, and four who lean where a more liberal wind blows. This could make all the difference as the Supreme Court meets next week to decide which cases to take on for next term. Among these potential cases are petitions to extend the Second Amendment to carrying firearms beyond the interior of a home and pleas from business owners to deny their services to same-sex married couples.
Other big news this week takes us international. Syria, wrenched by a six-year civil war, is coping with its second encounter with chemical weaponry. The last time, President Assad of Syria took responsibility for the 1000 lives lost to toxic gases and President Obama threatened with U.S military intervention unless all chemical weapons were destroyed. The recent April 4th attack resulted in around 80 deaths. This tragedy is no less forgivable than the last, but nobody is sure where to direct the blame. Assad is rejecting responsibility and nobody else has stepped forward to do so either. Despite the uncertainty, President Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian military airfield in a severe response to the use of chemical weaponry. Although the Russian forces allied to Syria were warned in advance, the 59 tomahawk missiles killed five soldiers and eight civilians. This heat-of-the-moment act could very well be an indication that the distrust towards Trump controlling the nuclear missile button isn’t completely unjustified. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad called the response an “arrogant act of aggression,” according to the Washington Post. The missile strike was the first act of U.S military interference and has many political implications in regards to our already shaky relationship with Russia and the safety of U.S troops stationed in Syria. Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov noted the difference between the U.S diction of fighting terrorism and the bombing of a Syrian government-owned military institute. Safronkov voiced a concern that the strike has lead the conflict into a more diplomatically treacherous plane.
What Will Whitman Feel?
We’ve discussed two serious culminations of this week. What then do these happenings mean for our very own Whitman community?
Gorsuch’s elevation to the Supreme Court has the potential to impact a lot of people from our pool of students and faculty. The possible upcoming Supreme Court cases have serious implications for setting the tone on LGBTQ rights, abortion, gun laws, environmental protection, and in some states the influence of minority voters. Being a widely liberal bodied college, the conservative tilt in the Supreme Court may have a negative impact on a sizable portion of our community. With the election of Trump, LGBTQ and minority students had explicitly expressed fear for what his presidency might bring. Gorsuch’s seat at the highest court in the country seems to be moving us one step closer to the reasons those students harbor fear. But only time will tell how Gorsuch will really affect our community and the many others in the U.S: he is, after all, a highly qualified judge who claims to make decisions based only on facts and written law.
The adversities in Syria might seem more remote, but that makes it no less real–even the less tangible aspects such as the blow dealt to United States International Relations with Russia. It’s yet to be determined whether or not the repercussions of these dealings will reach the United States, let alone Whitman College, but the lives of those affected are being mourned by many.