Neil Gorsuch doesn’t know much about politics and how the political class in Washington works, and that’s a good thing. Politics and the law make unnatural bedfellows, and the progeny of such beds is often unnatural.
But a well-meaning innocent adventuring into the high weeds that abound in Washington can get into trouble without meaning to, and when the innocent emerges from the weeds he can expect a face full of thistles and scratches.
Vince Foster, the deputy White House counsel in the Clinton administration who died a suicide in dark and mysterious circumstances two decades ago, had been in Washington only six weeks when he took his life. “I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington,” he wrote in an anguished valedictory just before he died. “Here ruining people is considered sport.”
Clarence Thomas, whom the reputation destroyers worked over without mercy during the hearings on his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, would understand Vince Foster’s despair. So would Robert Bork, whose similar vetting by an earlier generation of Democratic buzzards turned his name into a small-v verb to describe how to ruin an innocent by depriving him of his good name. So can Betsy DeVos, the new secretary of Education, and Jeff Sessions, the new U.S. attorney general, who were treated to ordeal by defamation.
Now it’s the turn of Neil Gorsuch, a nominee for the High Court that nearly everyone, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, agrees is an unusually qualified lawyer and jurist, a man of impeccable personal character and integrity. Nevertheless, Mr. Gorsuch should enjoy his good reputation while he still has one. “Here ruining people is considered sport.” Buzzards can’t wait.
Judge Gorsuch is currently making the courtesy round of the senators who will decide whether he joins the court. In all likelihood, he will. But it won’t be anything but grudging. No claque of sophomores has ever looked forward to a hazing session more than the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They can hardly wait to apply the maximum impression on the place where it will be felt most. Mr. Gorsuch can expect no particular courtesy.
The Democrats who are plotting the ambush of the judge got an assist from the judge himself when he called on Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and in a moment of candor, thinking it was a mostly a social occasion of new friends and not a trap set with smiles, a cup of coffee and fake bonhomie, told Mr. Blumenthal that President Trump’s candor about what he thinks of certain judges, was “disheartening.”
The partisan media leaped, treating this as something close to an admission of a high crime, with the judge as an accessory after the fact. Mr. Blumenthal said the judge “certainly expressed to me that he is disheartened by the demoralizing and abhorrent comments made by President Trump about the judiciary.” Demoralizing! Abhorrent!
The presidential tweet machine couldn’t let the occasion go by without a another blast. Mr. Trump said the remarks were “mischaracterized” (which hardly seemed possible), and besides, the telling of them was by a man who lied about being a combat Marine in Vietnam. Mr. Blumenthal did in fact present a carelessly embroidered version of his imaginary military heroics when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010. He should have expected that Marines who served with him stateside, 10 thousand miles behind the front line would blow the whistle on a tale of heroism made up of the whole cloth, a contrived version of “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” In Mr. Blumenthal’s telling, he might have been aide-de-camp to Henry V himself.
Judge Gorsuch is foolish if he thinks his deference will be returned as courtesy when he appears before Mr. Blumenthal and the Democrats when the hearings begin. The judge can expect not even a “smidgen” of authentic courtesy. What he will learn is that in the hyperpartisan games played in Washington a player must remember whose side is which, and keep an authentic friend at his back.
Mr. Gorsuch’s touching faith in courtesy in high paces has not yet been tempered by experience at high level. He thinks an attack on “the brothers and sisters of the robe” is an attack on all judges. One distinguished brother of the robe says Mr. Trump “is shredding longstanding norms of etiquette and interbranch comity.” (That’s the way lawyers talk.)
But Washington is not doing “interbranch comity” this year, and we’re fresh out of “etiquette.”
Mr. Gorsuch, who by all accounts deserves his place on the Supreme Court, will get it, but only by the brute force that it is in high demand this season. Nothing else works. Welcome to Washington, your honor.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Washington Times.
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