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High Court Nominee Should Preserve Scalia Legacy, Conservative Group Says


We're hearing different voices this morning on President Trump's choice for the Supreme Court. His nominee is Federal Appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado. For a conservative view on the nomination, we are joined in the studio by Carrie Severino. She's chief counsel and director of policy with the Judicial Crisis Network.

Carrie, thanks so much for coming in.

CARRIE SEVERINO: Good morning, Rachel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Your organization has taken the position that the next Supreme Court justice must be someone who will preserve what you refer to as Justice Scalia's legacy. Is Neil Gorsuch that nominee?

SEVERINO: Oh, absolutely. He is that in spades. It's like central casting came up with the perfect replacement for Justice Scalia. He is - academically, has just a brilliant record. His time on the court - he's been on the on the court of appeals for over 10 years and is really excellent record of adherence to the law and commitment to the text and the law of the Constitution.

It's something that has even impressed people across the aisle. You had people like Obama, Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who's a very prominent lawyer who's endorsing him saying this is someone who maybe I'm not going to agree with him politically on a lot of things but who stands up for the rule of law. And that's exactly the kind of person we need on the Supreme Court.

MARTIN: You mentioned that op-ed in The New York Times by Neal Katyal, the acting solicitor general under President Obama. Why do you think there were no similar voices on the right defending President Obama's pick Merrick Garland when that happened?

SEVERINO: Oh, there absolutely were there. There were a series of people who were talking about - that respected him as a judge and were writing opinions. But I think the question there was not so much the question of his qualifications, although I certainly think he was qualified in terms of his time on the bench, it's a matter of his judicial approach. And at that point, we were in the middle of an election year. There were a lot of people saying, let's just give the people a voice in this in who will fill this spot.

And it's something that, you know, if Hillary Clinton had won, she probably would be - have appointed someone different at this point. But the fact of the matter is the people did get to vote on who would choose the next Supreme Court justice, and they chose President Trump. So we're having a different conversation here.

MARTIN: As you know, though, there are Democrats who are saying that they intend to filibuster this selection as some kind of retribution for the way Merrick Garland was treated. Are you anticipating a tough fight? Does it make it harder for you to tell Democrats to get in line because of what they - of Republicans' action on Merrick Garland?

SEVERINO: You know, I don't think you're actually going to even see a filibuster at this point. Obviously, the Republicans with the numbers need eight judges to get to 60 votes. I think there's no question that Neil Gorsuch's record is so impressive he'll have all 52 Republican votes. There's already seven Democrats on record saying they think he should have an up or down vote. And I think that's something that's particularly easy after the Garland fight.

You had Democratic senators claiming it was unconstitutional not to have hearings and a vote for a nominee. So they're put in a very awkward position. It hasn't stopped people like Chuck Schumer from saying, nonetheless, we're going to block this. But if they've gone out and said it's unconstitutional not to give them a vote, it's very hard for them to turn around - and a lot of the Democrats who have said they want to give a vote have cited that.

MARTIN: There's a lot of dismay out there about the partisan nature of our moment, about Supreme Court nominations in particular and how partisan those have become. Does that worry you that the Supreme Court is becoming another partisan branch of government?

SEVERINO: Well, it's been dismaying to see ever since, really, the nomination of Judge Bork in the '80s, the level of partisan rancor ratchet up every time. You saw very personal attacks, for example, against Justice Thomas, who is someone I clerked for and have a great deal of admiration and respect for. So I agree. This is - it's a shame, especially when you see personal attacks being leveled.

We should, however, have a robust discussion of someone's judicial philosophy because this is, of course, the highest court in the land. It's someone who will sit there for a life term. And it has a major impact on every aspect of the way the country runs because all the laws that get passed are going to be tried through the court to make sure they're constitutional, to clarify how they're interpreted. We need to make sure we have justices who aren't going to substitute their partisan positions.

I think that's part of the reason it has gotten so political. Unfortunately, when you have judges that have an approach that allows them to bring in their own political leanings as opposed to simply looking, as Justice Scalia did, at the text of the law and the Constitution, then unfortunately you are going to create a political environment rather than something where we can just simply assess legal credentials.

MARTIN: Neil Gorsuch hasn't ever ruled on an abortion case is my understanding. Are you clear on his views? And if he is approved to the court, do you see it as a first step in reversing Roe v. Wade?

SEVERINO: I'm not sure if Neil Gorsuch is personally pro-choice or pro-life. But I don't think that's actually the question. I think we need judges who are going to be faithful to the Constitution. I do think that that approach of being very clear about what the Constitution itself said - it does cast serious doubt on Roe v. Wade. There's many liberal scholars, including Laurence Tribe at Harvard Law, who is someone who was a major adviser of President Obama who admits this is not a decision that has great legal founding. Now, there's a lot of people who might agree with it on policy grounds, but I think Gorsuch is someone who's going to kind of share Laurence Tribe's view on that.

MARTIN: We've been speaking with Carrie Severino. She is chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network.

Carrie, thank you so much for coming in this morning.

SEVERINO: Thanks for being here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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