Angus King’s ‘Independent’ Masterpiece


It’s generally recognized that Angus King’s political persona is a geometrical miracle, all surface and no depth. But when we study the skill with which he decorates this surface, we see something more impressive still. If disingenuity was an art, Angus King would be its Michelangelo, and connoisseurs of the disingenuous are hailing his April 4 announcement as a masterpiece.

Any fair-minded person studying the explanation he gave for voting against Neil Gorsuch must agree; Maine’s junior senator deserves to be crowned King of the Artful Dodgers. The state’s GOP Executive Director Jason Savage will receive no invitation to the coronation. The Director’s claim that Senator King has shown his true colors disqualifies him. The man has no true colors. He has a rich palette of tones and timbres from which he draws according to the demands of his art.

Simple folk, reading the long and laborious introduction in his announcement, will believe that his decision resulted from prolonged study. Those of us gifted with a micro-modicum of cynicism will understand the political calculations that determined the timing. If Senator King (I?-Maine) had come out as the 41st ‘NO’ that the Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer needed to launch a filibuster, he would have exposed his threadbare ‘Independent’ pretenses.

If he had declared a ‘YES’ for Trump’s nominee, the Justice Democrats, Demand Progress Zealots, and other “Resistance” Rabids would hunt him with dogs. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) became the 41st on the afternoon of April 3. The Artful Dodger released his ‘NO’ statement on the afternoon of April 6. His timing was perfect.

The Dodger’s announcement begins by telling us that he read “many” of Judge Gorsuch’s opinions, met with him personally, attended some of the Judiciary Committee hearings, watched some others, listened to the people of Maine on both sides, and read “all he could find” on the man’s background, judicial philosophy, and temperament.

These boasts of deep deliberation raise a couple of questions. First, it’s pretty well known that Judge Gorsuch is welcomed, or opposed, as the replacement for Justice Scalia, who was the champion of a system of constitutional interpretation called “Originalism.” This is the theoretical basis for Judge Gorsuch’s decisions. Why is it our Angus shows no sign he’s ever heard of it?

Second, we are left to wonder why liberal Democrats who voted against the Judge offered the same six reasons as “Independent” Angus.

Angus the Artist knows Mainers admire open-mindedness but dislike partisanship and suspect ideologues. So, he tells them he started with an open mind and an inclination to support a nominee with this judge’s educational and judicial experience. But (Alas!), he grew disappointed by the Gorsuch’s “steadfast refusal to answer reasonable questions as to his thinking on important legal issues and prior Supreme Court cases.”

However, the precedent has been set, known as the Ginsburg Rule. The judicial hearings for Gorsuch were merely fishing expeditions for the Democrats, who hoped their contents would reveal Gorsuch as a misogynist, hates-the-humble, empathy-deficient corporate stooge, or any other fault that would fit their premeditated narrative of him.

King knows this play as well as any senator, so we are not surprised to find him agreeing with every close-minded partisan liberal ideologue who accuses Gorsuch of being “evasive.” We see the Artful Dodger’s artistry on vivid display when he tells us he “found it particularly striking that [Gorsuch] was willing to discuss some precedents (such as Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co v Sawyer and Brown v. Board or Education, for example), but not others (Citizens United, Roe v. Wade). If Youngstown was fair game for discussion and analysis (he likes it), why not Citizens United (does he like it or not)?”

The reference to Youngstown hints at deep research and it works because few people in Maine have ever heard of it. In brief, the Supreme Court decided in 1952 that President Harry Truman did not have the authority to seize control over private corporations without congressional authorization.

No case involving that claim for presidential power has come before the Supreme Court in the last sixty-five years. It is of purely academic interest. The Citizens United decision, in contrast, still raises stiff and bristly partisan hackles. Some of us remember, even if Angus doesn’t, that  Hillary Clinton promised to nominate justices who would overturn that decision.

King’s second reason for his ‘NO’ disappoints us with its sloppiness. “There are no do-overs or second chances on this vote,” he claims, “which makes it all the more important to understand as specifically as possible who or what we are voting for.” His predicate is obviously false. President Trump guesses there may be four justices needing replacement during his time in office. This amounts to four possible “do-overs” since a single justice can decide nothing by himself. Realistically, the phrase “as specifically as possible” is about as meaningful as a belch. Specificity, as explained above, has been pretty well eliminated from the nomination game.

Reason three is impressively audacious. “From reading his opinions and analyzing his work as an appellate judge,” he says, “a picture does emerge, not of an independent judge, but of a judicial activist well to the right of the current members of the Court..” This gets really dire: “In short, a careful reading of his decisions and writings over the years has convinced me that he would favor a return to pre-1935 jurisprudence…”

Barack Obama selected Prof. Neal Katyal as Solicitor General, the president’s top advisor on constitutional issues. He was part of the legal team that blocked Trump’s revised travel ban order, and he knows Gorsuch very well. His New York Times column, entitled “Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch” describes the nominee as “one of the most thoughtful and brilliant judges to have served our nation over the last century.” He strongly supports the Gorsuch’s nomination. Anyone who believes Katyal favors a return to pre-1935 jurisprudence probably believes that King is a model of rectitude and veracity. I’ll say no more.

The Dodger’s fourth reason is his objection to Judge Gorsuch’s concurring opinion in the Hobby Lobby case. It hinges on several commonplace Left-lurching fallacies. The legal fiction that corporations are “persons” is not a new-fangled Republican fraud. It evolved from ancient Roman law and expanded to reach its present shape in the nineteenth century. Gorsuch’s reasoning had nothing to do with “a woman choosing how to manage her reproductive life.” Arguing that it involved a corporate employer’s control over a woman’s access to contraceptives regardless of her religious or moral principles is plain goofy. Not the artist’s best work.

The Dodger’s fifth reason belongs in the Guilt by Association File. Groups “who are purposely concealing their identities,” Angus tells us, “are us not spending this huge sum [$17 million] on speculation; they know what they are getting, and that, in itself, raises serious concerns, particularly given the judge’s reluctance to discuss the Citizens United decision.” While his conclusion lacks logic, it ascends to the shining pinnacle of disingenuous.

Savor this: “My thinking is that while the hearing may have left many of us uncertain as to Judge Gorsuch’s philosophy and likely conduct on the Court, the sponsors of this campaign are not uncertain at all.” Again, our new Supreme Court Justice judicial philosophy is well known. It’s called Originalism. Some people and organizations reject it, others favor it. The Dodger can point to no actual connection between Gorsuch and the groups supporting him. Provable connections are not necessary for a guilt by association accusation. Senator Joseph McCarthy understood that and so does Senator Angus King.

The sixth reason is not about the nominee but about the filibuster. “Although I came here deeply skeptical of this practice,” he explains, “I have come over time…to appreciate its role in forcing a modicum of bi-partisanship in connection with important issues.”

The Dodger supports this judgment with a brief historical explanation. However, there are some facts he couldn’t find the time to include. Liberal Democrats have suddenly discovered this vital role after generations of denouncing the filibuster? Republican senatorial majorities passed anti-lynching laws three times and southern Democrats blocked all three by filibusters. Strom Thurmond, while still a Democrat, set a record when he filibustered the 1965 civil rights bill.

The Dodger can give any reason he wants to oppose Gorsuch, but Mainers know the truth. King is a partisan Democrat. He always has been, and he always will be.


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