Conservatives heaped praise on President Trump when he appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017. But right-leaning activists and lawmakers have spent the last 36 hours seething over Gorsuch's lead role Monday writing an opinion ensuring gay, lesbian and transgender workers can't be fired based on their sexual orientation. With Trump suffering declining poll numbers about his religious conservative base, he can't afford to see the Gorsuch opinion resurface in November at a time when voter turnout is just as important as which voters are just turned off and stay home. "We're winning elections to get these judges in there and we should be able to have them affirm our values," said the policy director of a conservative legal group. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump basked in conservatives' praise when he tapped Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court just weeks after moving into the White House. But some on the right are questioning whether that appointment more than three years ago could end up costing the president his own job. The potential political fallout is bubbling up among conservative lawmakers and activists who have spent the last 36 hours seething over Gorsuch's lead role on a decision released Monday ensuring gay, lesbian and transgender workers can't be fired based on their sexual orientation. Protests have flooded social media and legal forums as conservatives vent over their surprise loss before the Supreme Court and what the ruling written by Gorsuch portends for other future landmark cases dealing with controversial issues like religious freedom and abortion. The debate even landed on the Senate floor Tuesday when a possible Republican 2024 presidential candidate questioned whether the Supreme Court's latest decision penned by a Trump appointee represented the "end of the conservative legal movement." Such cascading complaints raise big political questions right now for Trump, a controversial president suffering declining poll numbers among his religious right supporters and who can't afford to see the Gorsuch opinion resurface in November at a time when voter turnout is just as important as which voters are just turned off and stay home. "It's emotional," said Jon Schweppe, policy director at the American Principles Project, a conservative group. "We care deeply about these issues. We're winning elections to get these judges in there and we should be able to have them affirm our values." Demanding an apology from the Federalist Society The Federalist Society played an instrumental role in both Trump's election and Gorsuch's original appointment. So the group of conservative lawyers took the brunt of the criticism on Tuesday during a conference call about the Supreme Court's 6-3 decision, which rejected the Trump administration position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act didn't extend discrimination protections to cover gender identity or sexual orientation. "Why don't you, Curt, and the others who pushed this nomination down our throats have the decency to apologize?" one of the callers said during the town hall. Curt Levey, a member of the Federalist Society's civil rights practice group and the main speaker on the call, replied that conservatives shouldn't expect to win every time. "Even if this is a terrible decision, I wouldn't have anything to apologize for," he said. "Can you point to a justice who's always right? It's pretty hard to find. If they can get it right 80 to 90 percent of the time, I'd be pretty happy." Later, Levey said it was impossible to guess how a judge would rule on all cases. "You don't know in advance," he said. "You can't read somebody's mind." During the 2016 campaign, the Federalist Society came pretty close to mind-reading when the group of conservative and libertarian lawyers furnished Trump with a list of preferred jurists. Trump's promise in return to appoint conservatives to the court helped win over wary conservatives and Christian right voters. After his election, Trump followed through with Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, as well as nearly 200 other conservative judges named to lifetime seats on the federal bench. Concerns growing over Trump's chances at keeping the White House have also prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans to nudge judges who have reached retirement age to step down now so the president can nominate their replacements. There's even a list of 80 names of judges tapped by former GOP presidents who they've been targeting.
'The end of the conservative legal movement' Sen. Josh Hawley blasted the Supreme Court's decision during a fiery floor speech on Tuesday. The Missouri Republican eyed by GOP strategists as a possible White House contender in 2024 said the opinion "represents the end of something. It represents the end of the conservative legal movement or the conservative legal project as we know it." Religious conservatives, Hawley added, would no longer "sit down and shut up" when ordered by establishment Republicans and business-oriented Republicans who eschew social issue fights. One thing Hawley didn't do is blame Gorsuch — or the president. That's a strategy that other Christian right supporters of Trump have also followed, including adviser Franklin Graham. Trump on Monday dismissed concerns over the ruling. "I read the decision, and some people were surprised," the president said. "But they've ruled, and we live with their decision. That's what it's all about. We live with the decision of the Supreme Court. Very powerful — a very powerful decision, actually. But they have so ruled." Conservatives 'betrayed' by Trump picks Trump faces real political peril in Gorsuch's ruling. The president drafted Vice President Mike Pence to join him in 2016 precisely to bring back conservatives and evangelical voters to his side, particularly in critical swing states throughout the Rust Belt like Michigan and Wisconsin. But just like the prospect of black voters staying home could harm Democrats in November, the prospect of religious conservatives sitting out an election race could inexorably damage Trump. The president admitted as much before the 2018 midterms, when he essentially threatened conservative evangelicals by saying "you're one election from losing everything you've got" if they didn't turn out their voters to help Republicans keep the House. Behind the scenes, some Trump advisers told Insider that Trump could skirt social conservative issues entirely if he wins a second term. Jared Kushner, Trump's uber-adviser and son-in-law, had been leading an effort to pull social issues from the Republican Party's platform, though his attempts have so far fallen flat. Other Trump advisers have routinely noted that he can't win reelection without the support of the Christian right. Last month, a Pew Research poll found that white evangelicals had been souring somewhat on Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic response. Enter the Supreme Court, and the sky-high expectations Trump helped to build after Kavanaugh's appointment to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy appeared to put conservatives on a more solid majority footing. But Schweppe said Gorsuch's decision cements a concern he hears from other conservatives that the Supreme Court could end up narrowly ruling to uphold Roe v. Wade, supporting abortion rights in the country, and delaying efforts to outlaw the procedure for another decade or more. "When we wake up on Mondays and refresh ScotusBlog, we feel betrayed," he said, referring to the popular website that covers the Supreme Court. Some conservatives downplayed the hand-wringing. Levey, the Federalist Society member, said Tuesday that it was too early to determine if Gorsuch was morphing into a swing-vote akin to John Roberts, the George W. Bush-appointed chief justice who most famously disappointed the right with his decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Another conservative lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court defended Gorsuch as a like-minded justice who nonetheless supports LGBTQ rights. "Is that a shocking move?" the lawyer said. "It is 2020."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why Pikes Peak is the most dangerous racetrack in America
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