Over nearly three hours of debate among 10 Democratic presidential frontrunners, there was just one mention of the US Supreme Court Thursday night — a reference to a 1973 decision about school segregation.
The lack of attention to the courts in the Democratic primary is in stark contrast to the right’s embrace of the issue. President Donald Trump frequently touts his success dramatically reshaping the federal courts — he’s already filled two US Supreme Court seats, and the US Senate just this week confirmed the 150th judge nominated since he took office. His reelection campaign is even hawking T-shirts with the message “SUPREME COURT CHAMPS,” featuring silhouettes of Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But so far, Democrats running to unseat Trump have barely made an issue of the courts at all. None of the top-polling candidates have made the future of the courts a central part of their platform, and some don’t even mention the issue on their websites. It’s barely come up in the first three primary debates.
Reaction to Thursday night’s debate from legal advocacy and court watchdog groups pushing to get the candidates to say something, anything, about the future of the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary was swift, and disappointed.
Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, sent a one-word email to BuzzFeed News as soon as the debate ended: “Welp.” Aaron Belkin, director of Take Back the Court, wrote that “the candidates don’t seem to get that their bold new policies won’t see the light of day because the Supreme Court will strike most of them down.”
Heading into the thick of the primary season, liberal legal advocacy groups are still optimistic, though. They see an opportunity to build on Democrats’ anger over Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination last year and the Republican judicial confirmation juggernaut, hoping to finally make the courts an issue the left cares and talks about as much as the right does.