Whitman Professor Jack Jackson weighs in on Supreme Court nominee

Kate Grumbles, News Reporter

One week after President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch for the position of Associate Justice to replace the late Justice Scalia, Wire reporter Kate Grumbles sat down with Assistant Professor Jack Jackson from the Politics department. Below is a partial transcript from that interview. Minimal edits made for the purpose of clarity and concision.

What is the likelihood that Gorsuch will be appointed to the Supreme Court?

That’s maybe a question for all of us to answer- what kind of pressure will be put on the Democrats. He only needs a majority vote in the Senate. The Republicans have the majority, it’s hard to imagine the Republicans breaking away and voting against him. If it comes up to a majority vote, he’s almost certain to be confirmed to the Court. The question is: will Democrats filibuster? If the Democrats filibuster, then the Senate needs 60 votes to cut off debate. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether the Democrats will filibuster. I think the protests that have been happening around the country… the intensity in terms of passion and also numbers against President Trump will make it more likely…that democrats might filibuster. I believe that Senator Merkley from Oregon has said that he would filibuster. Minority leader Democrat Chuck Schumer, as of this date, has not committed. If the Democrats filibuster then it becomes a different question.

How will Gorsuch’s position on the court be different than Scalia’s?

It’s very hard to predict justices. Many justices change over time, they don’t live up to the expectations of those who nominate them. Just to give you an example, one of the great liberals of the Court, in its history…Justice William Brennan was appointed by conservative Republican Dwight Eisenhower. Another example, the author of the opinion making same sex marriage constitutional under equal protection of the due process grounds was Justice Anthony Kennedy. Justice Anthony Kennedy was appointed by arch conservative Ronald Reagan. I think it’s always a bit tricky to put too much stock into predicting what Justices will do. Nonetheless, I think it would not be unfair to say, that from his writings…one would imagine that Justice Gorsuch would follow in the mold of Justice Scalia on a variety of issues in the Court. In this sense he would be a true replacement for Scalia.

Is Judge Gorsuch an originalist, what does it mean to be an originalist?

Gorsuch very much so follows in the tradition of Justice Scalia, being an originalist and a textualist. As an originalist and textualist, he’s looking at the precise meanings of the words in the Constitution and and the statute when they were written. He’s not looking at, say, the legislative history behind the Constitution, or the drafting history behind the Constitution or the legislative history behind the statute. Nor is he looking for the spirit of the law, he’s looking at the text and, as best he can determine, its original fixed meanings at the time the text was written.

How do you think Justice Gorsuch will impact Roe v. Wade?

Because he’s replacing Justice Scalia, the impact will not be immediate. That is to say that Justice Scalia always thought Roe v. Wade was wrong, and always voted to overturn it. It’s quite likely that Judge Gorsuch, if you read his writings, will very much do the same. He will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, along with other privacy cases. Now, again, because he’s replacing a vote on the court that was already hostile, it will not change. If Roe is overturned, Justice Gorsuch will no doubt be a key part of that majority opinion.

How will another Conservative impact voting along party lines on the Court? Will it influence Justice Kennedy?

I think it’s a mistake, most of the time, to say party lines in the sense of Democrat vs. Republican. There are ideological divisions on the Court. In the sense that Gorsuch will replace Scalia, and in many ways will vote as Scalia would have voted, it simply holds in place what had been a working Conservative majority on the court. In certain issues, of course Justice Kennedy would swing with the liberals, that wouldn’t change.

What will the next 30 years look like for the Supreme Court?

One presumes an American Republic in 30 years, I don’t think that’s a safe assumption. No possibility to make a prediction. Several of the justices will be in their 80’s during the Trump administration. If one, two, or three of those justices leave the court, then Trump has the capacity to replace them. Especially if it’s Justice Breyer or Justice Ginsburg, we could have one of the most right wing Supreme Courts in our history that would be locked in for perhaps the next 25 to 30 years, assuming we have a republic for the next 25 to 30 years.