Ruth Marcuss well-sourced account reveals a conservative push to dismantle FDRs legacy through the supreme court
Supreme Ambition has already earned the presidents ire. In a 24 November tweet, Donald Trump trashed the book, its author and her employer: The Ruth Marcus book is a badly written & reseached [sic] disaster. So many incorrect facts. Fake News, just like the Washington Post! If the tweeter-in-chief had actually read it, he would probably be even more enraged.
Apparently, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, Trumps appointees to the supreme court, dont have the greatest regard for him. In the run-up to election day 2016, Kavanaugh let it be known that he thought Trump was a buffoon, Marcus writes. As for Gorsuch, the first appointee, in a conversation with Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Trump nemesis, he termed the presidents derisive remarks about the judiciary in the aftermath of the travel ban rulings demoralizing and disheartening. Gratitude and subservience go only so far.
Marcus, a veteran Post reporter now deputy editorial page editor, delivers a highly readable 496-page account of Kavanaughs nomination, the surrounding machinations within the White House and Congress, and the decades-long campaign waged by the right to wrest control of the judiciary.
Although she is unsympathetic to the GOPs endeavor, her book is amply sourced and footnoted. It is meticulous in detail and credible in content.
Most memorable is her revelation that 14 months before he would leave the bench, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Kavanaughs former boss, lobbied Trump to elevate the appeals court judge. As Marcus described things, Kennedys message to the president was as consequential as it was straightforward, and it was a remarkable insertion by a sitting justice into the distinctly presidential act of judge picking. Kennedy has not issued a denial.
Supreme Ambition offers a possible additional glimpse into Kennedys thinking. Marcus reports that at a gathering of Washingtons high and mighty, the Alfalfa Club dinner, shortly after Trumps inauguration, Gregory Kennedy, the justices son, approached the White House aide Kellyanne Conway and conveyed that no one was happier about the election than his father.
In fairness, the author also records the younger Kennedys email denial that he ever spoke to Conway about his fathers views about the election or any other subject. Notably, he does not deny meeting Conway. Justice is not always blind.
The appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh were not isolated events. Rather, they marked a culmination of a concerted effort by movement conservatives to remake the courts in their image. While abortion was very much part of their agenda, so was stymying the administrative state and rolling back the New Deal.
A graduate of Yale and Harvard Law School, Marcus recalls that last spring, the courts conservative flank signaled interest in undoing the legislative legacy of the Great Depression as unconstitutionally broad delegations of congressional authority. In the words of Justice Samuel Alito: If a majority of this court were willing to reconsider the approach we have taken for the past 84 years, I would support that effort. At the time, the Chief Justice John Roberts and Clarence Thomas conveyed similar sentiments.
This past Monday, Kavanaugh flashed that he was there too, making that five justices in all, a majority. Expressly invoking a Gorsuch dissent, Kavanaugh observed that the constitutions nondelegation doctrine may warrant further consideration in future cases. Paraphrasing the late chief justice William Rehnquist, he announced: Major national policy decisions must be made by Congress and the president in the legislative process, not delegated by Congress to the executive branch.
In other words, fetuses werent the only reasons that large checks were being cut to the Federalist Society, or that constitutional originalism had become the civic religion of the right. FDRs legacy had to be gutted. Social security may no longer be so secure.
As Supreme Ambition makes clear, Trump delivered on his campaign promises, in large measure, because of the efforts of Don McGahn, his now estranged former counsel, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader and a one-time McGahn patron. In the face of Christine Blasey Fords testimony against Kavanaugh, whom she accused of sexual assault, it was the two men, along with former president George W Bush, who effectively held the line.
The nominee angrily denied the allegation but a worried Trump watched the reviews of Fords performance and phoned McGahn. He refused to pick up. McGahn explained his insubordination to his deputy, Annie Donaldson: I dont talk to quitters. As framed by Marcus, the most important man in the world could not get through to his own lawyer.