Law & Order in the Age of Trump: Part 1

Is America ready for Justice Neil Gorsuch?

Editor-in-Chief Brian Wild

News Writer Gina Selig

Photos courtesy of the Associated Press, Reuters, and Brian Wild

“Is it unprofessional to spend congressional – and by extension, taxpayer – time asking a Supreme Court nominee about his favorite fishing spot in his home state?” – Chris Kocsik, political science major

“I’m worried about any kind of travel ban…” – Eva Abraham, business and marketing major

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Background:

As Ke Kalahea reported at the time, the sudden passing of Justice Antonin Scalia on Feb. 13, 2016, rocked the nation. Scalia, who sat on the U.S. Supreme Court for nearly three decades, was appointed to the bench by then-President Ronald Reagan.

Throughout his tenure, Scalia was known as a leader of the legal community’s conservative faction. His death last year was all the more troubling for Republicans who feared that Barack Obama, with nearly a year left in office, would get to replace Scalia with a more liberal justice.

This explains why, merely hours after Scalia’s death, Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, announced that his party – which held a majority of the seats in the Senate – would refuse to hold any hearings or votes on a new Obama Supreme Court nominee. Even after President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a long-serving federal appellate judge most legal experts deemed as highly qualified for the Supreme Court, Republicans were unmoved. The calculation among Republican leaders was to “let the American people decide” the fate of the Supreme Court seat, which they hoped would eventually be filled by a new Republican president. Republicans got their wish: Donald Trump was elected president, and promised to name a new nominee to the court that would be more appealing to Republican voters.

Today:

During his second week in office, President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a 49-year-old federal appellate judge from Colorado, to fill the 11-month-old vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court left by Justice Scalia.

While Republicans largely cheered Gorsuch’s nomination, many Democrats were instead angered by the move. Senate Democrats, in particular, still felt snubbed by their Republican colleagues’ disregard for President Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland last year.

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Trump’s action to nominate Gorsuch not only fulfills his campaign promise to appoint a more conservative-oriented justice to replace Scalia, but it also gives Trump and Republicans the opportunity to confirm someone who could cement the conservative direction of the court for decades.

Trump lavished praise on his nominee, saying that “Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline, and has earned bipartisan support. When Gorsuch was nominated to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, he was confirmed by the Senate unanimously. Millions of voters said this was the single most important issue for them when they voted for me for president. I am a man of my word. Today I am keeping another promise to the American people by nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.”

If confirmed, Gorsuch would be one of the few justices hailing from west of the Mississippi. This would add some geographic diversity to a court where most of the justice’s have lived and worked in the Northeast – in particular New York City and Washington, D.C. Gorsuch, though, also spent many years living in Washington, when President Ronald Reagan appointed his mother, Anne Gorsuch Buford, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although Gorsuch is viewed in a relatively similar light as Garland – possessing the credentials to serve as a qualified justice – his confirmation process has prompted what could be a massive fight between the Senate’s narrow Republican majority and their Democratic colleagues.

In other news:

While the Gorsuch’s nomination is consuming much of the political oxygen on Capitol Hill, Trump’s opponents are preoccupied with the more immediate aspects of campaign promises are being shot down. The so-called “travel ban” or “Muslim ban” is one of them. The Trump administration’s initial order that citizens from certain Middle Eastern countries would be barred from entering the United States was blocked by a federal judge in Seattle. The second version of the ban was likewise blocked by a federal judge, this time here in Hawai‘i. Furthermore, states like Hawai‘i have vowed to continue filing lawsuits against any further attempts to restrict travel between the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries like Iraq and Iran.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has more than 20,000 employees, spread across 400 offices in the United States and 46 countries. The Trump administration has called for the hiring of 10,000 additional agents.

The Obama administration directed ICE to focus only on serious criminals, including those who had the potential to be terrorists. Not so under Trump. Shortly after taking office, ICE detained 161 people in a southern California raid with a wide range of felony and misdemeanor convictions. However, ten of those people had no criminal history at all.

Indeed, there have been a number of high-profile ICE raids across the country, which has been met with much outcry. In Virginia, ICE agents waited outside a church shelter to find undocumented immigrants, who had gone there to stay warm. In Texas and in Colorado, agents went into courthouses, looking for foreign-born individuals who had arrived for hearings on other civil and criminal matters. At John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, passengers arriving after a five-hour flight from San Francisco were asked to show their documents before they were allowed to get off the plane.

Over the past month, the Trump administration’s extensive plan to arrest and deport vast numbers of undocumented immigrants has been a source of stress – both to travelers, as well as the ICE officers charged with enforcing the president’s directive. The sizable number of new ICE agents is likewise a potential headache for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – which oversees ICE – as they are in the midst of completing their training.

What do students at UH Hilo think?

Senior Chris Kocsik, a political science major, offered a number of opinions on how he felt about the current state of the justice system under President Trump.

When asked for his thoughts on Trump’s Supreme Court nomination, Kocsik felt that Gorsuch “represents traditionalism and an ordinary interpretation of the laws as the writers [of the Constitution] meant it at the time it was written… as a jurist and a man of law he’s unquestionably a skilled professional and a leader in conservative judicial thought, which is why he’s ended up where he is.”

Kocsik further noted that the buzz surrounding Gorsuch’s nomination – including charges that Senate Republicans are being unfairly lenient towards a Trump nominee – should take into account the context of contemporary American politics.

“Is it unprofessional to spend congressional – and by extension, taxpayer – time asking a Supreme Court nominee about his favorite fishing spot in his home state? Or is it unethical to ease up on scrutiny during [the] advise and consent portion of congressional duties, due to the fact that the majority party in Congress confirming the nominee… is attempting to secure dominance of all three branches of government? That’s for the voters and constituents to decide,” Kocsik said.

“Certainly, the process represents a rather big partisan departure in how government usually works and how confirmations are handled traditionally, however that is simply a reflection of the political climate right now,” Kocsik added.

Freshman Eva Abraham, a business and marketing major, views Neil Gorsuch in the same way as most other Americans – as a question mark.

“I don’t know much about him,” Abraham confessed. “I don’t have much time to check the news since I’m always either busy with school, or my clubs, or at a rehearsal,” she added.

Should Senate Democrats allow Gorsuch a smooth confirmation process – something Democrats say was never afforded to Obama’s nominee, Judge Garland?

“Democrats should turn the other cheek, for the sake of the country and the greater good,” and confirm Gorsuch, Abraham said.

In terms of evaluating judges, Abraham explained that, for her, a particular issue of concern was how Gorsuch and his prospective colleagues will rule on Trump’s travel ban. Though Abraham is not from the Middle East, she still feels a personal connection to the story.

“I’m worried about any kind of travel ban, and how it might affect places outside the Middle East,” Abraham said. “I’m from Pohnpei [Federated States of Micronesia], with is a COFA country.” COFA, or the Compact of Free Association, refers to a pact involving Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau. Though these are independent countries, they have built-in ties to the United States, including use of American currency and the ability to live and work in the U.S. Abraham fears that this may eventually be revoked, in a worst-case scenario where Trump seeks to isolate the U.S. from any foreign entanglements.

“It’s personal for me, because my family is from Micronesia, and I think that we’re similar to how most other immigrants view the United States… we all are seeking a better life, and I think Trump and his supporters should put themselves in our shoes.”

“Part 2 of Law & Order In The Age Of Trump” will focus on the actions taken by the U.S. Department of Justice under Trump’s leadership, and news surrounding the possible connections between Trump staffers and the Russian government during the 2016 campaign.