February 8, 2020

TRUMP WANTED VOTERS TO KNOW WHAT HE STOOD FOR. DEMOCRATS ARE AFRAID VOTERS WILL FIND OUT: Why Democrats Aren’t Naming Names.

Candidate Donald Trump’s decision to provide a list of jurists from which he would appoint his first Supreme Court justice was both a brilliant political stroke and an act in the public interest—two qualities that are rarely combined. For Trump, it created favorable publicity and allowed him to rebut critics who accused him of lacking knowledge or interest in matters of governance, specifically the Supreme Court.

The list also advanced public understanding. The appointment of a Supreme Court justice is one of the President’s most consequential acts, with effects lasting decades into the future. Of course, presidential candidates can and do make vague statements about the kind of justices they will appoint: They promise “strict constructionists” or “judges with empathy.” They may vow to take some current justice on the Court as a model, pledging to appoint justices in the mold of Clarence Thomas or Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But nothing is as informative as an actual list of specific candidates that can be vetted by everyone.

Moreover, a list disciplines the President once in office. After pledging himself to a specific list of judges, he cannot compromise his commitment to a particular constitutional jurisprudence in favor of other calculations, like pleasing a key Senator, gaining an easy confirmation, ensuring the smooth passage of legislation, or just appointing a crony. Some critics said that Trump could not be trusted to choose from his list, but they were proven completely wrong.

Given the demonstrated political advantage and public interest involved in offering a list, it is striking that no candidate for the Democratic nomination has provided one of his or her own—despite the pressure to stand out in a crowded primary. The best explanations show the problems that face Democrats in raising the salience of the Supreme Court in a political campaign—problems which would also create complications for a Democratic president in appointing justices and federal judges.

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