The media immediately went to Defcon 1 within moments of Anthony Kennedy’s retirement.
There is no question that the stakes are sky high as President Trump prepares to nominate a conservative to replace the man who has been a swing vote for decades.
But it's worth remembering that Kennedy was a Reagan appointee who frequently sided with the conservatives, even as he occasionally provided the key vote for liberals to protect such hot-button causes as abortion rights and gay rights.
By the same token, John Roberts is a George W. Bush appointee who wound up delivering gay marriage and saving ObamaCare. So going back to Ike naming Earl Warren, justices sometimes surprise the presidents who pick them.
Still, Trump has an opportunity to remake the Supreme Court in a way that will last for decades. It's hardly surprising that liberals would be gearing up for Armageddon.
What's striking is the way that some liberal commentators are demanding that the Democrats block any vote on any Trump nominee.
They are using the simple logic of payback. Mitch McConnell blocked Merrick Garland, never even allowing him a hearing, on grounds that it was Barack Obama's last year in office. Now some Democrats and their media allies are saying, well, this is also an election year so let’s delay until after November (obviously conflating the midterms with a presidential election to succeed an incumbent).
Chris Matthews, acting like he is still working for Tip O'Neill, was riled up throughout the day on MSNBC, loudly declaring it's "time for vengeance for what happened two years ago" and that the Democratic leadership will be dumped if they fail.
CNN commentator Bakari Sellers said that since Republicans have only a 50-49 edge with John McCain out, retiring GOP senator Jeff Flake should show "some testicular fortitude" and join the Democrats in blocking any Trump nominee. (Flake says no way.)
One interesting twist is liberal anger at Kennedy for having the temerity to retire shortly before his 82nd birthday after three decades on the court.
The New Republic says Kennedy was "moderate" only in comparison to the court's right-wing flamethrowers. Slate's liberal legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick, after bashing Kennedy for joining in the latest conservative rulings on the travel ban, abortion and unions, says:
"Many of us predicted that Kennedy would not allow Trump to replace him with someone who would dismantle his legacy. We were wrong. Many of us believed that a lifelong devotee of dignity, civility, and the rule of law would not want his work tarnished by a president who routinely attacks individual judges and the very notion of an independent judiciary. We were wrong."
Kennedy's appointment is a reminder that past court nomination fights have been bloody. He was Reagan's third choice after liberals like Ted Kennedy attacked and demonized Robert Bork in ways that produced a lasting verb, "Borking." And Clarence Thomas barely made it onto the court after Anita Hill's sexual harassment allegations.
For many left-wing outfits, there is only one issue. HuffPost ran a picture of a coat hanger with the headline, "The End of Roe."
CNN's Jeffrey Toobin declared, "You are going to see 20 states pass laws banning abortion outright. Just banning abortion. Because they know that there are now going to be five votes on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Now the great likelihood is that there will be five pro-life justices on the court. But that doesn't automatically mean they will toss out a ruling that has been the law of the land since 1973. It's equally possible that the new majority will chip away at abortion rights and access to such procedures.
Since Trump is so often portrayed as an erratic leader, keep this in mind. A Republican president like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio easily could have nominated Neil Gorsuch and probably would be comfortable with any other name on Trump's list of 25 names. The president ran openly as a pro-life candidate. This is not Trump acting as some kind of outlier; this is the latest sign that elections have consequences.