Looking back, there were probably a lot of things that motivated Americans to elect Donald Trump. But three biggest had to be Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the empty seat in the U.S. Supreme Court. Bewildered by the radical policies of Obama, scared by the promises of Clinton to continue them, and worried that another activist justice who would expand them, voters made the choice no one expected. And the president returned the favor -- doing more for the preservation of the Constitution in one nomination, Neil Gorsuch's, than some men do in their entire term.
For millions of Americans who put the Court at the top of their concerns in 2016, April 10th of last year was a moment of extraordinary relief. President Trump, who went on to keep a lot of promises, fulfilled one of the biggest when Neil Gorsuch was sworn in. The strict constructionist is, as experts will tell you, the real deal. "I really don't think we could have seen a justice any more committed to textualism and originalism than he is," says a professor at Georgetown Law. "He has lived up to very high expectations."
That's even more astonishing when you consider whose shoes the Coloradan was filling: Antonin Scalia's. Few members of the Supreme Court have been -- or will be -- more adamant about interpreting the Constitution in its original form than the late Scalia. But in 12 short months, liberals are already pining for the outspoken Catholic, complaining that Gorsuch "makes [us all] miss Scalia." The 50-year-old is everything the longtime justice could have hoped for -- a humble, esteemed, and deferential jurist whose legacy will almost certainly outlast the president who appointed him.
"I can report," the rookie justice told the Federalist Society last November, a person can be both a committed originalist and textualist and be confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States... Originalism has regained its place at the table of constitutional interpretation, and textualism in the reading of statutes has triumphed. And neither one is going anywhere on my watch." For Donald Trump, Gorsuch's swearing in was almost as significant as his own. It cemented the trust voters had already placed in the unorthodox president. For Trump, who's keeping promises almost as quickly as he's confirming judges (29 to Obama's six), it was another sign that voters -- and the president -- had chosen well.
As FRC's Ken Blackwell explains in his new Townhall op-ed, "Gorsuch has consistently argued in defense of Americans' constitutional rights. In oral arguments for NIFLA v. Becerra argument, Gorsuch raised objections to California's law compelling pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise where their clientele can obtain a free or low-cost abortion, arguing the law could 'compel' speech from a private speaker. He voiced similar concerns during oral arguments for Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case in which a state agency fined a baker for declining to express a statement that conflicted with his religious beliefs." He's fought for the religious liberty of churches in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer and stood up for Second Amendment rights.
But the best measure of Gorsuch's success is almost certainly the Left's constant grumbling. Slate calls his legacy "already devastating," while People for the American Way complained that today is "an unhappy anniversary for our rights and liberties." One news outlet squawked that the former Kennedy clerk aligned with Clarence Thomas 100 percent of the time, making him "far to the right" of even Scalia. Others used the moment as a rallying cry to "stop Trump from placing another Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court."
With whispers that another justice's retirement may be imminent, the president may have an even greater chance to restore the Court -- and, potentially, hang on to Congress in the process. "We need more Republicans in 2018 and must ALWAYS hold the Supreme Court!" Trump tweeted, pointing to what could be a midterm election game-changer. With one in five Americans telling pollsters that the Supreme Court was "the most important factor" in their vote for president, there's plenty of reason to believe that another vacancy would help drive the turnout Republicans need to keep control of Congress. For that to happen, President Trump needs to acknowledge the high bar conservatives have set -- and assure them that his next pick would come from the same list that gave us Gorsuch.
Because, as even the president's GOP critics know: the best way to judge Trump is his judges. It remains, Jonathan Tobin wrote for NRO, "the single most potent argument in favor of voting for Trump two Novembers ago." The Never Satisfied Never Trumpers might find it impossible to separate "Trump the man and social-media creature... from Trump the president, who has governed as a conservative." But, Tobin insists, "conservatives must try to do so. Because Trump's presidency has seen a series of major conservative victories... And this year's SCOTUS docket is a reminder of how much good his election has done, too."