When Neil Gorsuch appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017 to make a case for his confirmation to serve a life term on the US Supreme Court, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy observed that, “unless we were asking about fishing or basketball, Judge Gorsuch stonewalled and avoided any substantive response. He was excruciatingly evasive. His sworn testimony and his approach to complying with this Committee’s historic role in the confirmation process have been patronizing. That is a disservice to the American people. And it is a blight on this confirmation process.”
Leahy said the nominee’s evasiveness was a particular concern on the voting-rights issues that were raised during the hearing. Gorsuch, said the chamber’s senior senator, “provided no answer at all to questions regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County to gut the Voting Rights Act.” The same went for questions from Leahy and his fellow senators regarding democracy issues. The questions were asked, but Gorsuch did not answer.
Now Justice Gorsuch has answered. On Monday, the Court released its ruling in the case of Hustad v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, an essential test of the Court’s stance regarding voting rights. With the critical 2018 election just months away, the Court’s activist majority gave Republican secretaries of state a go-ahead to resume the antidemocratic practice of purging fully qualified voters from registration rolls.
It was a 5-4 decision. Had Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Obama to serve on the Court but was then refused a confirmation hearing as part of the machinations by Senate Republican that eventually landed Gorsuch on the high court, it almost certainly would have been different. There is good reason to believe that a Justice Garland would have refused to send the signal that Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law president Kristen Clarke warns is likely to be interpreted “as a green light to purge the registration rolls of legitimately registered voters.”
But Gorsuch sent that signal, siding with four other conservative judicial activists to say that Ohio and other states may conduct aggressive purges of voter rolls, with an eye toward removing the names of qualified voters who have failed to cast ballots in every election. The Ohio process begins by sending address-confirmation notices to voters who have not voted in the past two years. If the voters do not go through the bureaucratic process of returning the notices or otherwise updating their registration data over the ensuing four years, their registrations are tossed.