Purim approaches, and so does the hearing and vote for the president’s choice for a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land. Our 45th president, as imperial and out-of-touch as Ahasuerus (ex-wives! beauty contests!), displays a callous disregard for constitutional values, separation of religion and state and the importance of a fair and independent judiciary. Like the courageous Mordecai and Esther, we cannot afford to stay silent when we see a clear threat to liberty, equality and justice for all. That’s why progressive Jews should be speaking out to say that Judge Neil Gorsuch is wrong for the Supreme Court.
It’s considered unusual for a Jewish organization, especially one that is non-partisan and 501(c)(3), to get involved in Supreme Court nominations. But the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) has been at the forefront of social change since 1893, and mobilizing for a fair and independent federal judiciary since 2001. NCJW has taught me that courts matter, and gives me the courage of Esther to get involved. I know that the president chooses who sits on the Supreme Court — and on the lower federal courts too — and this is always my number one reason to vote a certain way in a presidential election. I’m a proud volunteer advocate who has worked on NCJW’s BenchMark campaign since its inception. BenchMark is a volunteer-driven grass roots effort to educate our communities on the importance of the federal judiciary and to make our voices heard on the issue of judicial nominations. Through BenchMark, we have galvanized the Jewish community and beyond to oppose Roberts and Alito, and to support Sotomayor and Kagan. We have also made our position known on many nominees for the lower federal courts.
Yes, we cannot forget the lower federal courts. The Supreme Court receives requests to hear about 7,000 cases a year, but accepts only about 80. Meanwhile, the Courts of Appeals and District Courts decide the vast majority of cases, many that affect our daily lives. Case in point: As a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Judge Neil Gorsuch was part of the court majority that ruled in favor of employers who refused to pay for health insurance that covered all forms of contraceptives for its employees. The court held that corporations are people, and as explained in an article by the Center For American Progress, they “have religious rights equal to living, breathing humans.” Therefore, the court concluded that corporations could use this status to deny rights to workers. The case was upheld by the Supreme Court as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. And since that landmark decision, the Tenth Circuit’s same arguments have been used to deny rights to the LGBT community.
The Alliance for Justice has reported on Judge Gorsuch’s record on a variety of issues. Before his judgeship, Gorsuch spent a decade with a prominent law firm, where he primarily represented corporate clients fighting anti-trust and class action lawsuits. Through his court opinions and essays, he has made it clear that he has no respect for the constitutional principles that have supported the progress made by women and people of color throughout our country’s history. He has demonstrated a partiality to Wall Street and an eagerness to gut regulations for worker protections, clean air and safe food. As a Trump nominee, Gorsuch has apparently passed the litmus test posed by right-wing organizations that are bankrolled by the Koch brothers. Furthermore, he’s the choice of a president who seeks a rubber stamp for the kind of anti-constitutional executive actions that have produced outrage and massive protests in his first month in office.
It bears repeating: a seat on the Supreme Court is a lifetime position. So while we question the qualifications, values and commitment to our democracy of the president and his Cabinet picks, at least they only have four years to do damage. At 49, Neil McGill Gorsuch would have decades on the bench to inflict his originalist views, interpreting the Constitution with an ideology that is on the far right fringe of legal thinking.
Not surprisingly, Senator Pat Toomey, who helped blockade President Obama’s nomination of the eminently qualified Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court for nearly 300 days, has come out in strong support of Gorsuch. As constituents, we have the right and the obligation to tell our junior senator that we don’t agree. Our senior senator, Bob Casey, has said that he has not made up his mind yet. We need to urge Senator Casey to fight for the kind of Supreme Court judge who shows respect for all, not just the wealthy and powerful, the kind of judge who can win a consensus of support.
There are some who may claim battle fatigue with the new administration and are ready to give up without even questioning this nominee. This is no time to acquiesce. As Mordecai said to Esther, who expressed her fears in going before the king uninvited to expose Bannon’s … er, Haman’s evil plan, “Think not with thyself that thou shall escape the king’s house, more than all the Jews.” To paraphrase for our time: Don’t think you can sit this one out, people, because the decisions of a Supreme Court pulled over far to the right will affect all of us.
Did I mention this is a lifetime position? Every American — and certainly every senator charged to advise and consent, or dissent — should carefully consider how this nominee will affect not just us, but our children and grandchildren. Let’s be like Esther and Mordecai: Speak out to our senators and tell them that only men and women committed to upholding our constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms should be confirmed to lifetime seats on the federal bench.