As the hearings on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill the ninth seat on the U.S. Supreme Court comes to a conclusion today, the Democratic leader of the Senate has declared his opposition to the President Trump’s nominee and announced plans to filibuster to stop his confirmation.
Minority leader Senator Charles Schumer of New York said he and other Democrats will join in a filibuster to stop the nomination despite the Republicans holding a majority of seats in the chamber, which at the very least will make the process more complicated and could lead to a change in Senate rules forced by the Republican leadership in order to muscle through an approval.
The Republicans had hoped to bring the Gorsuch nomination to the floor of the full Senate on April 3, and have him confirmed before the Easter recess. To do that Republicans would have to break precedent and thumb their noses at Democrats.
The choice is considered especially important right now because the new judge will likely vote on explosive issues that have divided the Senate and the country. They include Trump’s efforts to ban immigration from six countries with a majority of Muslim residents – which has been blocked by lower federal courts so far – and Trump’s plan to use the military court at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to prosecute American citizens for certain crimes.
In announcing he will vote against Gorsuch, Schumer said he “was unable to sufficiently convince me he’d be an independent check” on President Trump. He said Gorsuch was not “a neutral legal mind, but someone with a deep-seated conservative ideology.”
A filibuster in the simplest terms means Schumer and other Democrats will continue to talk about their opposition non-stop, and use any procedural tricks they can muster, to slow the process and ultimately derail the nomination.
The Republicans eventually could use what is known as the “nuclear option,” which means the majority party takes a series of votes to change the current rules, which would require 60 votes to override a filibuster. If successful, the Republican’s could vote by a simple majority (they hold 52 of the 100 seats) to confirm Gorsuch.
Such a move would be unprecedented, but in these treacherous political times, when the President regularly lies, Congressman double-cross each other and the country is as divided as it has been in generations, the “nuclear option” is a real possibility.
The Democrats are feeling rightfully passionate about the need to block Gorsuch from becoming the key swing vote on the court. Schumer and other Senators charge that Gorsuch during his confirmation hearing refused to state his position on any of the big hot button issues that the court has decided or is likely to face.
In a speech on the floor of the Senate this week, Schumer said that Gorsuch “declined to answer question after question after question with any substance. . . . All we have to judge the judge on is his record,” according to the Washington Post.
The Democrats are also still steaming over the way Republicans stonewalled the nomination of a highly qualified judge, Merrick Garland, who was nominated for the same Supreme Court seat in March 2016 after the death of Antonin Scalia. That was almost ten months before the end of President Obama’s term in office.
Republicans said they wanted to wait for the next President to make a choice, and refused to even hold hearings on the nomination. That was unfair to President Obama and to the nation, as the court then deadlocked on important issues.
Now those same foot-dragging Republicans are outraged that the Democrats won’t quickly rubber stamp Gorsuch, despite a long record of Conservative activism as a lawyer in the Bush administration and on the federal bench.
The fact is every Supreme Court nominee in recent years has won at least 60 votes for confirmation. That includes President Obama’s choices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. President George W. Bush’s choice of Samuel Alito was confirmed with 58 votes in 2006 after 72 Senators voted to defeat an attempted filibuster.
Things have gotten a lot worse since Alito. The Republicans played hardball with Garland at a time even President Trump’s supporters upset about his budget, his failed attempt to repeal Obama care and his radical alt-right agenda, so the need for an independent judiciary has never been greater.
Democrats have a right to insist that whoever takes the lifetime seat can be trusted to rule based on the facts and a balanced view of the constitution – especially when Trump’s outrageous effort to pervert the American democracy come before them.
Mr. Smith went to Washington and now Mr. Schumer and his colleagues are following in his footsteps.