An interesting thing happened to Sen. Tom Cotton on his way to the 2024 presidential campaign: President Donald Trump included him Wednesday on his not-very-short list for his next Supreme Court nominee.
Cotton was among 20 named by Trump to go along with the 21 he’d already listed in the 2016 campaign, including now-Justice Neil Gorsuch, plus five who were added after the election, including now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Let’s be clear: This whole thing was a political maneuver meant to change the subject from the coronavirus and call attention to Trump’s judicial appointments, along with what Trump says is Joe Biden’s lack of transparency regarding his appointments.
But just because something is political doesn’t mean it’s not also real. Some of Trump’s voters wince at his tweets and comments but vote for him because they like his Supreme Court appointments – perhaps the president’s most consequential official duty. In this area, he has not let them down.
Cotton responded with a statement expressing gratitude for his inclusion and later sent a tweet saying, “It’s time for Roe v. Wade to go,” referring to the 1973 decision where the Court said abortion is a constitutional right. Man, he is so good at 2020-era politics, where it’s all about getting people’s attention and pushing the right buttons.
Because Gorsuch eventually became a Supreme Court justice, let’s treat this more seriously than perhaps we should. If Trump were re-elected, Cotton would be one of a small number of individuals known to have a real shot at a Supreme Court seat. Trump’s appointment probably would replace a liberal justice. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 87, while Justice Stephen Breyer is 82.
However, Cotton is already running for president in 2024. He’s campaigning for Senate candidates in other states and running out-of-state campaign ads attacking Democrats and supporting Trump and Republicans. Those ads conclude with a picture of him, often wearing combat gear, with the voiceover, “I’m Tom Cotton, and I approved this message.”
He wants to be president, not a Supreme Court justice. He’s a lawyer, but he hasn’t spent much time practicing law. You can argue that a particularly consequential Supreme Court justice, who can serve four decades, is more important historically than many run-of-the-mill presidents. But no one calls a Supreme Court justice the leader of the free world. So if Trump were to offer the job, I’m doubting Cotton would take it.
On the other hand, what if he did? Cotton would be unlike any Supreme Court justice we’ve ever known.
The Supreme Court may be divided between conservatives and liberals, but it’s a chummy bunch that, especially in recent years, has been careful not to make too big a splash unless it absolutely has to.
Cotton LOVES making a splash. He would be combative and aggressive. It’s not hard to imagine him taking off his robe at the end of the day and showing up on Fox News to smash the liberals and/or Chief Justice John Roberts. Actually, maybe he’d keep the robe on. The Court has been hesitant to weigh in on the most divisive issue it faces, abortion. Cotton would not be hesitant. If he says, “It’s time for Roe v. Wade to go,” he means it.
Again, this is a theoretical discussion. It’s highly unlikely Cotton will be a Supreme Court justice. Trump must be re-elected first, unless something were to happen to a current justice in the very near future. His original list members are still waiting to hear their name called like audience members on “The Price is Right.” Others could be added to the list, like Kavanaugh was.
But, theoretically, Cotton could have that opportunity. Being a Supreme Court justice is a lifetime appointment, so Cotton would have to choose between shaping the country for decades versus the mere possibility of becoming president.
Unless he decided to run president while serving on the Supreme Court. He wouldn’t do that, would he?