August 14, 2018

Gorton shares insight, prediction on U.S. Supreme Court

By: Jason Hagey   Comments: 0
Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and AWB's federal lobbyist, Tim Peckinpaugh, discuss the U.S. Supreme Court at the AWB Federal Affairs Summit on Aug. 14, 2018 at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

As Washington state’s attorney general, Slade Gorton argued 14 cases in front of the U.S Supreme Court. Later as a U.S. Senator for 18 years, he took part in the Supreme Court justice confirmation process.

Gorton brought this unique perspective on the nation’s highest court to AWB’s Federal Affairs Summit on Tuesday, sharing insight, recollections and a bold prediction: Brett Kavanaugh, who was nominated by President Trump in July to succeed retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, will be confirmed by Oct. 1 by a vote of 52-47.

“Wow, it’s on the record,” said Tim Peckinpaugh, a colleague of Gorton’s at the law firm K&L Gates, who interviewed Gorton during the day-long gathering in Tacoma.

“Money-back guarantee,” Gorton replied, laughing.

Gorton made his prediction based on a conversation he had earlier this year with his friend, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. McConnell said the confirmation would happen by Oct. 1, Gorton said. “When he says something like that,” Gorton said, “you can take it to the bank.”

Eventually, Gorton said, he believes all of the Republicans in the Senate will end up supporting the Kavanaugh nomination. Once that happens, he believes a few Democrats will, as well.

During the wide-ranging conversation, Peckinpaugh asked Gorton for his opinion on everything from the appropriateness of the current confirmation process and the significance of the nomination to the history of the court and proposals to add to its number or impose term limits.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, he will give the court a far more solid 5-4 majority voting for conservative issues, Gorton said. But the picture that critics are painting, particularly regarding Roe v. Wade, are overblown he said, noting that state laws will still apply in most cases.

Even so, when asked whether Gorton believes it’s appropriate to spend millions of dollars campaigning for or against a nominee, he replied, “Yes, I think it is.” Supreme Court justices make substantive decisions on important issues, he said, so they should be held up to critical review based on their positions.

“If they’re going to be in the kitchen, they’re going to have to stand the heat – at least one time,” he said.

Gorton began his long political career in 1958 when he was elected to the state Legislature. In 1968, he was elected Washington state attorney general, a position he held for three terms. During that time, he argued 14 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, a number that is not likely to be matched.

“I loved arguing before the Supreme Court of the United States,” Gorton said Tuesday. “It was my favorite action as attorney general.”

Gorton and Peckinpaugh spoke about the court’s history and how the nomination process has changed over the years, most notably with President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork. Sen. Ted Kennedy led a successful opposition campaign that not only derailed Bork’s appointment but also turned his name into a verb.

At various times, there has been talk either of expanding the size of the court – allowing a president to “pack it” with favorable justices – or to impose term limits.

Gorton said he worried about unintended consequences that term limits would create. “I am very conservative on an issue like that,” he said.

As for a president attempting to pack a court, Gorton noted that presidents are “often fooled and frequently disappointed by their own appointments” when a nominee who was thought to be conservative ends up with a more liberal voting record, or vice versa.

As Gorton came to the end of his remarks, Peckinpaugh pressed him for one more prediction: Is this finally the year for the Seattle Mariners?

“For quite a number of years people have said, ‘Wait till next year,’” Gorton said. “This is next year.”