[Spoilers below for the finale of the most recent season of The Justice.]
This has been, it must be said, an exceptionally long season of The Justice. The series’s seasons traditionally play out in compact arcs, over days and weeks and sometimes months; its most recent season, however—the one whose story has focused on the filling of the seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia—has spanned nearly a year. Scalia died in February of 2016; the effort to replace him on the Court has been almost a 12-month-long television event. And the season has also been, it must be said, an exceptionally choppy one; that is what happens, after all, when a show switches hosts mid-season.
Still, The Justice’s producers deserve credit for masterfully creating suspense in the season’s long-anticipated finale: Tuesday’s episode managed to deliver narrative tension and emotional drama, and this both despite and because of its season’s unusual length. “Just moments from now, President Trump will announce his Supreme Court selection,” Bill O’Reilly, broadcasting from Los Angeles, announced to Fox News’s live audience. The host added, to put the finale in its context: “The reason that this is so important is because the shape of the country will be decided by the Supreme Court. And Americans voted for president based upon knowing that.” O’Reilly was well aware of the gravity of the finale’s decisions: As he reminded his primetime viewers, “it’s a monumental occurrence that you’re about to hear from the White House.”
And, of course, he was correct: The stakes of the finale couldn’t have been higher. Trump, as this season of The Justice came to its conclusion, was announcing not just the result of the board-room deliberations he engages in with his family members and advisors; he was also announcing the winner of a Supreme Court seat with power to affect the most intimate elements of Americans’ lives—and for decades to come. This was an episode that celebrated not just the American presidency and its powers, but also, more broadly, justice itself.
The episode acknowledged all that. The event, aired live on Tuesday during the coveted 8 p.m. time slot, was filmed in the East Room of the White House; its studio audience included Vice President Mike Pence, presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway, presidential son Donald Trump, Jr., and—a sentimental nod to previous seasons of the show—Maureen Scalia. (Merrick Garland, who had been a front-runner earlier in the season, was notably missing from the live audience.) The assembled crowd was a lively one: When Trump acknowledged the drama of the finale—it was, he said, “something that the American people have been asking for from Washington for a very, very long time”—his audience applauded enthusiastically.
And the crowd got even livelier when Trump announced his winner. The competition had come down, it seems, to two finalists: Judge Neil Gorsuch, who served on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, and Judge Thomas Hardiman, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Both men offered exceptional credentials to become the next justice, according to the tests Trump used to make his decision. Gorsuch was a strict constitutional textualist in the tradition of Scalia; Hardiman, for his part, had been voted onto the appeals court in 2007 by a handily bipartisan vote of 95-0.
In the end, the finale revealed, it was Hardiman who was sent away; it would be Gorsuch, Trump announced, who would be rewarded for his exceptional performance with a seat on the highest bench of them all. As Trump made that announcement, he called the jurist to join him on the stage, between the East Room’s podium and its red carpet. Cameras flashed. The audience cheered. Gorsuch, with his wife, Louise, emerged from backstage. “Please, Louise, Judge,” President Trump said, beckoning them to join him at the podium. And then: “Here they come,” the president announced, for the benefit of the show’s at-home viewers. “Here they come.”
It was a moment of triumph for Gorsuch, who came to the show with exceptional credentials, and who conducted himself well throughout the season. Trump noted of the current crop of would-be justices that “I studied them closely.” And the president noted as well how exceptional Gorsuch, in his estimation, had proven to be. Trump praised Gorsuch’s academic credentials in particular: They’re “as good as I have ever seen,” he said, noting how much he values education, and noting as well that his new justice boasts an undergraduate degree from Columbia, a law degree from Harvard, and a doctorate from Oxford. Gorsuch has also previously clerked for the Supreme Court. “It’s an extraordinary resume,” Trump noted—“as good as it gets.”
Gorsuch, for his part, seemed to relish the victory—yet, in a short speech he gave accepting his win, maintained an air of humility and sobriety. He mentioned his mentors. He mentioned the Senate, the body that will be charged with confirming his win. “Mr. President, I am honored, and I am humbled,” the show’s winner said, both to the president and to the many, many people who had gathered—in person, and around their screens—to witness his win.
Already, however, Gorsuch’s victory in the competition—in the grand tradition of reality TV—has proven controversial. So, then, fellow viewers, stay tuned: If past episodes are any indication, we’re in for an especially dramatic new season of The Confirmation.