“It’s the Supreme Court, stupid,” wrote Hugh Hewitt last week in defense of his vote for Donald Trump, despite the Republican presidential nominee not being his first choice.
Days earlier, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Trump had all but taunted conservatives on this front: "If you really like Donald Trump, that's great, but if you don't, you have to vote for me anyway. You know why? Supreme Court judges, Supreme Court judges. Have no choice, sorry, sorry, sorry. You have no choice.”
One seat on the highest court is already vacant after Antonin Scalia’s death and has remained empty as Republicans refuse to hold a hearing or a vote on President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
Three other justices will be at least 80 during the next president’s first term. Even for conservatives who revile Trump, the prospect of losing control of the court for a generation terrifies them. “I know what a very liberal SCOTUS means,” Hewitt wrote. “Conservatism is done.”
Still, some conservative writers are unpersuaded, even after the candidate took the unusual step of releasing a list of his ideal nominees.
“It’s a Trump commitment, and Trump commitments are notoriously worthless,” wrote David Frum at The Atlantic, adding, “If Donald Trump ever gains the power to nominate a justice of the Supreme Court, what he will seek will not be conservatism. It will be pliability on whatever issue is preoccupying Trump at that particular moment.”
At The National Review, Ian Tuttle similarly dismissed the court as reason for skeptical conservatives to get in line. Even if Hillary Clinton were to appoint liberal justices that threaten conservative ideals, “this damage accumulates slowly, and it can be mitigated. Conservatives often forget that the Supreme Court can only render decisions on cases presented before it. Disciplined conservative legal circles can curtail the Court’s power to establish national precedents by refusing to appeal to it.” (Many liberal groups have already been employing this tactic with the current Supreme Court.)
Moreover, Tuttle writes, “What Trump supporters refuse to do is weigh it against another clear and present danger to our constitutional order: a President Donald J. Trump.”