The Conservative Pipeline to the Supreme Court - 2017-04-10
The Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch, which were held last month, in Washington, D.C., quickly fell into a pattern. Democratic senators unsuccessfully sought to pin down Gorsuch's views on issues such as campaign finance, while Republicans made gentle inquiries that seemed designed to run out the clock. In this vein, toward the end of Gorsuch's testimony, Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, asked Gorsuch his opinion about the Declaration of Independence. Gorsuch took the opportunity to deliver a patriotic lecture about the heroism of the Founders. "No one remembers who John Hancock was," Gorsuch said. "But they know that that's a signature because he wrote his name so bigly . . ." Gorsuch's invocation of one of Donald Trump's trademark utterances, apparently accidental, prompted an explosion of laughter from the audience.
Seated toward the back of the hearing room, Leonard Leo smiled. "There's one sound bite," he whispered to me, then added, "You know, the hearings matter so much less than they once did. We have the tools now to do all the research. We know everything they've written. We know what they've said. There are no surprises." Gorsuch had committed no real gaffes, caused no blowups, and barely made any news—which was just how Leo had hoped the hearings would unfold.
Leo has for many years been the executive vice-president of the Federalist Society, a nationwide organization of conservative lawyers, based in Washington. Leo served, in effect, as Trump's subcontractor on the selection of Gorsuch, who was confirmed by a vote of 54–45, last week, after Republicans changed the Senate rules to forbid the use of filibusters. Leo's role in the nomination capped a period of extraordinary influence for him and for the Federalist Society. During the Administration of George W. Bush, Leo also played a crucial part in the nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Now that Gorsuch has been confirmed, Leo is responsible, to a considerable extent, for a third of the Supreme Court.