Gorsuch Confirmation Among Conservative Groups’ Accomplishments

Last Friday’s approval of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court was just the sort of development PMA Chairman Fred Anton had hoped for all the way back in 1989 when he and others formed the Pennsylvania Leadership Council (PLC).

Started over exasperation with a directionless Republican Party, the PLC, the group of conservative activists, journalists, and scholars, has seen its influence over the Pennsylvania and even the national political scene grow substantially over the years.

“They (Republicans) were no longer the party that worked for limited government and lower taxes, or fought to stop union abuses,” Anton said in opening the PLC’s annual two-day meeting in Harrisburg on March 31.

The PLC, as Anton said, played a big role in getting public spending restraint and other conservative principles back into the lexicon of  the GOP. That, in turn, led to a more conservative makeup in the General Assembly, and ultimately to today’s strong Republican majorities in both houses.

Moreover, the groups’ ties to conservative U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, who spoke immediately after Anton at the conference, reach back to 2009 when Toomey announced his run for the Senate at the PLC that year. Toomey won re-election this past November in a race against a liberal candidate, with a resume of government work and enough money to make the Senate race the most expensive in the history of the republic.

“By helping return Pat Toomey to the U.S. Senate, Pennsylvania’s conservative activists and thought leaders have done the nation a great service.” said PMA President David N. Taylor.

Toomey’s presence in Washington amounts to more than just an invaluable conservative vote in a Senate where the Republicans hold a slim majority. His reasoned, rational arguments during the Gorsuch nomination process were a soothing, effective tonic to the hyperbolic outrage in the Senate from Gorsuch opponents who hoped that the noise covered a lack of substantive arguments against the nominee.

Toomey said that Gorsuch is such a stellar combination of intelligence, character and experience that his opponents had to resort to calling him an “outlier,” even though on the U.S. Court of Appeals he ruled with the majority 99 percent of the time. Opponents went ballistic over the Republican use of a procedural floor tactic, the so-called nuclear option, to end a filibuster that they themselves introduced in the Senate just a few years before.

The real reason Washington insiders fear Gorsuch, Toomey said, is that he won’t manhandle the Constitution (a “living, breathing document” in their view) to enact policies of their liking. That’s a role, he rightly sees, as one for elected officials who are accountable to the voters.   

“What the Gorsuch opponents want in a Supreme Court is a permanently convened constitutional convention,” Toomey said. “To the critics, the rule of law is not what matters the most. What matters is policy outcome. What they’re saying is that some litigants are more equal than others.”

He continued: “There is a reason why Lady Justice is blindfolded. Treating everyone the same is essential to our system of government and our very freedoms.”

This tug-of-war over policy played out in the Gorsuch hearings over a thirty-year old Supreme Court decision that established the Chevron Doctrine, which gives regulatory bodies the authority to effectively apply the law as they see fit. During the Gorsuch hearings, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) insisted that regulatory experts must have the power to do what they think is best, even if Congress did not grant them that power. Gorsuch is no fan of the doctrine.

As National Review’s Jonah Goldberg recently wrote: “The question is not whether the bureaucrats are right in the opinions regarding the interpretation of the law. The question is whether unelected bureaucratic agencies should be able to define the limits of their own power. Historically, that is a job for the legislature and, when the law is vague, judges. But under Chevron, bureaucrats are given precisely the kind of arbitrary, prerogative power the Founders saw as inimical to liberty and the rule of law.”

And as Charles Murray put it in his book By the People: “Chevron deference augments that characteristic of prerogative power by giving regulatory bureaucrats a pass available to no private citizen and to no other government officials — including the president and cabinet officers — who function outside the regulatory state. For everyone except officials of the regulatory state, judges do not defer to anything except the text of the law in question and the body of case law accompanying it.”

For a recap of all the events of the PLC, including both Mr. Anton’s and Senator Toomey’s speeches, please visit www.paleadershipconference.com.  Also, be sure to tune-in to two special episodes of PMA Perspective on Sunday, April 23 and 30 at 8:30 a.m. on the Pennsylvania Cable Network for exclusive interviews with conference participants: Ben Shapiro, John Gizzi, PA Senator Scott Wagner, Congressman Lou Barletta, PA Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, PA Rep. Steve Bloom, and Congressman Scott Perry.