Monday, October 15, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Gorsuch's bland confirmation hearings

In a court of law this would be undisputed prima facie evidence.

For it has been clearly demonstrated that federal appellate court Judge Neil Gorsuch is eminently qualified to become a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, having survived a brutal grilling by the Senate Judiciary Committee in which the nominee had to defend his controversial positions on trout fishing, hiking, rodeos, riding sheep, basketball and the meaning of life. We can probably stipulate he thinks puppies are the cat's whiskers.

We're into some real Louis Brandeis territory here.

As a practical matter, it is likely that Gorsuch will be an able jurist once he is inevitably confirmed. It's not as if President Donald Trump tapped Steven Tyler for the high court because he did such a bang-up job as a judge on American Idol. But perhaps it's best not giving him any ideas.

The problem, of course, is that Supreme Court confirmation hearings hardly have become a reliable exercise in determining if one is fit to serve on the highest court in the land since the nominees have proven to be deathly afraid to reveal very much about their qualifications. It's almost as if to be elevated to the court, one must take a vow of omerta meets Marcel Marceau.

Robert Bork is often cited as the cause for all the reticence, recalling the House of Cards villain Francis Urquhart's common refrain: "You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment."

Bork, who was nominated to the bench by Ronald Reagan in 1987, possessed a keen legal mind and a brilliant grasp of jurisprudence. Just ask him. His scholarly legal acumen was widely available through his voluminous body of writing. And that proved to be his downfall.

Through the blurry prism of history, Bork's nomination process often has been characterized as unfair, highly partisan and rushed. But none of that is accurate.

Bork did indeed get a full and fair hearing. And out of that process, the nominee revealed himself to be a really, really scary guy. His views on women's rights were something out of the Middle Ages. He was less than supportive of the Voting Rights Act, which would have qualified him to serve on the Supreme Court — of South Carolina. He was an advocate for expanding the powers of the presidency. He was rather squishy as to the citizenry having an inherent constitutional right to privacy.

The nominee wasn't rejected because he was conservative. He was rejected because he was an extremist.

The hearing on his nomination did exactly what it was supposed to do — explore a judicial candidate's views and temperament for the job. And Bork was found wanting.

It is contrary to the revisionism that Bork was a tragic victim of partisanship. But the nominee was rejected by the Senate by a vote of 58 to 42, with six Republicans voting "nay." No matter. Since the Bork era, court appointees have feared having their nomination "Borked" if they dare to be too candid in expressing themselves. So we have a U.S. Supreme Court nominee publicly making out with his wife before the hearing starts and singing the praises of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Not quite the stuff of Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England.

Since Bork, only two other nominees have been forced to withdraw their nominations. Douglas Ginsburg, who Reagan picked after the Bork debacle, stepped aside after he admitted to smoking marijuana as a college professor. How quaint. And President George W. Bush's pick of Harriet Miers quickly imploded after it became clear that Joe Pesci's character in My Cousin Vinny had a sharper legal mind.

And yes, there was the ill-fated nomination by President Barack Obama of Judge Merrick Garland, who had an impeccable professional and personal reputation, but was denied even a hearing by the Republican-controlled Senate. Whew, no partisanship there.

Gorsuch's confirmation has never really been in doubt. He has a laudable legal resume and lengthy experience on the appellate bench. And let's be honest. He looks and acts like a judge, which in these days of the Star Wars bar scene reflecting the inner workings of the White House is no small accomplishment.

Perhaps the only stone left unturned in fully vetting Gorsuch is the most pressing of questions, which still could be raised by that vigorous interrogator, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

"Judge Gorsuch, if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?"

Comments
Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

A proposal that goes to the three-county utility Tampa Bay Water on Monday could benefit residents, the economy and the environment across the region. The utility's governing board will consider a proposal by the city of Tampa to redirect highly trea...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

The Tampa Bay Rays’ purchase of the Rowdies soccer team adds some stability to the region’s roster of professional sports franchises. It also guarantees that the Rowdies, who have amassed an enthusiastic fan base in a short time, will k...
Published: 10/12/18
Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

When the sun rose Wednesday, Mexico Beach was a sleepy town of 1,200 people on Florida's northern Gulf coast. By sundown, it was gone. The pictures show the heartbreaking devastation left by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle. Entire neighbor...
Published: 10/12/18
Shortsighted opposition to TECO

Shortsighted opposition to TECO

The destruction from Hurricane Michael is only the latest reminder of Florida's growing vulnerability to extreme weather, rising sea levels and other impacts of a warming climate. But the Sierra Club's opposition to Tampa Electric Co.'s plans to retr...
Published: 10/12/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Published: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Florida sheriffs have long hand-plucked their successors from within the ranks. While he is a product of this tradition, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is uniquely qualified to be elected on his own merits.Then-Sheriff David Gee surprise...
Published: 10/11/18
Updated: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

One justice on the Florida Supreme Court faces a merit retention vote in November, essentially an up-or-down vote of confidence allowing him to remain on the bench. Merit retention votes occur at least one year after the justice’s initial appo...
Published: 10/11/18
Times recommends: Yes on retaining 4 appeals judges

Times recommends: Yes on retaining 4 appeals judges

The 2nd District Court of Appeal judges are on the Nov. 6 ballot for merit retention. Voters are being asked whether the appellate judges should be retained for another six-year term.Two pieces of information are helpful in deciding. First, the Flori...
Published: 10/11/18
Times recommends: Vote no on Clearwater strong mayor

Times recommends: Vote no on Clearwater strong mayor

A handful of influential business leaders are understandably frustrated with Clearwater’s failure to rejuvenate its downtown and eager to duplicate the rebirth of downtowns in Tampa and St. Petersburg. But they have focused on the wrong soluti...
Published: 10/10/18
Updated: 10/11/18
Times recommends: Vote yes on St. Petersburg charter amendments

Times recommends: Vote yes on St. Petersburg charter amendments

St. Petersburg voters will see two city charter amendments on the November ballot related to leases at two city properties. Both amendments would allow for longer leases at sites where improvements are planned, and they deserve voters’ support...
Published: 10/10/18