COMMENTARY BY: MARGOT CLEVELAND | FEBRUARY 01, 2022
With Thursday’s official announcement by Justice Stephen Breyer of his impending retirement, conservatives are strategizing on the best approach to prevent confirmation of a leftist activist justice. Instead, Republicans should be praying that President Biden nominates the looniest, most far-left lawyer possible for a slot on the high court. Why? Because history has proven that a far-left justice will be no worse than a moderately liberal justice in the casting of Supreme Court votes, meaning there is no downside to a far-left pick, while the upside potential is huge, given that it is Biden appointing the new justice and not a Republican president: Thank you very much, Never Trumpers.
While over the last four decades justices appointed by Republican presidents have demonstrated a penchant to “grow” in office or have proven more moderate or pragmatic than proclaimed during confirmation, the same is not true for Democrat-appointed justices, who vote in near-perfect lockstep over their careers.
Then there are the Republican-appointed justices who do not abandon their judicial philosophy, but conclude that a faithful application of originalism requires them to vote with the leftist wing of the court. Justice Neil Gorsuch provides a perfect example of this phenomenon, providing the fifth vote in several cases in the criminal context, and before him the now-late Justice Anton Scalia.
Conversely, in close or contentious cases, Democrat-appointed justices “represent a block geared toward progressive policy outcomes.” It matters whether these justices are perceived as center-left or hard-left: The desired liberal outcome dictates the decision. So, fighting for a less leftist justice serves no purpose. On the other hand, there are many positives to the conservative cause if Biden nominates a far-left candidate to the Supreme Court. With midterm elections later this year, Biden naming an extremist to the high court positions Republicans perfectly to talk about the importance of elections—and specifically control of the Senate. The nomination of a far-left candidate will also provide an opportunity during the confirmation process for Republicans to highlight the recent public revelations of the Democratic Party’s true far-left goals. President Biden has already showcased the party’s obsession with identity politics by promising the country his nominee would be a black woman, so men and whites need not apply.
Further, if Republicans maintain decorum and respect during the process, and focus on the nominee’s judicial philosophy and policy, they can score points with a public disgusted by the left’s disgraceful treatment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and his family. And the more leftist Biden’s candidate, the more restrained Republicans will appear by comparison. Moreover, the further left the candidate, the more justified a “no” vote will be for swing-state Republicans, allowing them to vote against the nomination based on principle, and thereby avoid the obstructionist label. Likewise, moderate Republicans or Republican senators in purple or blue states could justify a “yes” vote based on their view that a president is entitled to his nomination.
The more extreme Biden’s candidate, the more this position will inure to Republicans’ benefit when a supposedly far-right candidate finds himself or herself nominated to the Supreme Court by a future Republican president. The same moderate Republicans can point to their vote for Biden’s extremist justice as proof of the consistency of their position that a president is entitled to his nominee, or if they are kicked out of office over their vote for Biden’s nominee, a stronger senator could be in that office. And should Democrat senators en mass vote against a future Republican nominee, the hypocrisy charge will strike more squarely the more extreme Biden’s leftist nominee is.
It is also not just the fight that will benefit the conservative cause: Elevation of a far-left justice to the Supreme Court will advance originalism more than if Biden were to replace Breyer with a milquetoast moderate. That premise may seem counterintuitive because we think of “moderates” in the context of politics and not precedent.
For a Supreme Court decision to be “precedential,” five justices must agree with both the outcome and the analysis. Were Biden to appoint a so-called “moderate,” her vote would tally with the far-left wing of the high court and her reasoning would likely be mainstream enough to, at times, shift Justice John Roberts or Justice Brett Kavanaugh to join with the other two leftist justices to create a majority opinion that binds lower courts.
Conversely, a far-left justice will also vote with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan but may drag her sister justices too far to the left to entice any so-called moderate justices to join in the decision. Then, either the leftist side will lose, or the outcome will favor the leftist position, but the Supreme Court’s decision will be fractured, with several of the justices writing separately, resulting in no binding precedent and only dicta.
Of course, originalism would benefit more from the appointment of an originalist justice, but that is not an option now, as President Biden is our president and Breyer submitted his resignation effective upon confirmation of his successor. So the choice is between Justice Breyer and another liberal justice or a far-left one. Stalling in the hope of obtaining a more palatable liberal will leave us with Justice Breyer and the need to delay an appointment for three years.
Conservatism would be better served by using Biden’s appointment to remind the public that elections have consequences. The loonier left his nominee is, the better that point can be made.