Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced he will oppose Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and plans to join a growing group of Democrats who hope to block his ascent to the high court.
Democrats, with Schumer’s support, will force a procedural vote which requires 60 senators to vote in favor of taking up consideration of Gorsuch’s nomination. The maneuver, called a filibuster, could temporarily stymie the nomination, as Republicans control only 52 seats in the Senate, eight short of the 60-vote threshold.
In remarks given on the Senator floor, Schumer said that Gorsuch is “not a neutral legal mind but someone with a deep-seated conservative ideology.”
“He was groomed by the Federalist Society and has shown not one inch of difference between his views and theirs,” he added, in reference to a conservative and libertarian legal forum popular with jurists and legal scholars on the right. The group’s executive vice president, Leonard Leo, has taken a leave of absence from the group to advise the Trump administration on judicial vacancies.
Leo and the Heritage Foundation’s John Malcolm played leading roles in crafting the list of 21-judges President Donald Trump put forward as possible Supreme Court nominees during the general election.
The announcement comes just one day after Gorsuch’s appearance before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary concluded. The judge took questions from members of the panel over several days.
The decision now raises the prospect of the so-called “nuclear-option,” by which Senate Republicans would abolish the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Democrats abolished the 60-vote threshold for judicial nominees at former Sen. Harry Reid’s direction in 2013, but preserved the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.
Schumer’s announcement notwithstanding, it’s unclear if Democratic leadership will pressure members of the caucus to vote with them in support of the filibuster. Late Wednesday night, Politico reported that a handful of Senate Democrats were mulling a deal with Republican colleagues under which they would vote with the GOP to end a filibuster of Gorsuch’s nomination. Per the terms of the deal, which is still in the earliest stages of discussion, three Republican senators would have to pledge to vote against abolishing the filibuster on future judicial nominees.
Leo immediately expressed opposition to the proposal.
“One way or the other his confirmation is all but assured by now,” he said in a statement. “This absurd ‘deal’ would prolong an environment in which Democrat Supreme Court nominees get up or down simple majority votes and Republican nominees get filibustered. That’s not a deal, it’s unilateral disarmament.”
Developments throughout the day suggested Republicans may have no choice but to invoke the nuclear option. Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, one of ten Democratic senators standing for reelection next year in states Trump carried in 2016 announced he would join Schumer’s filibuster. Another such Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, would not commit to backing Gorsuch, and hopes to schedule a second meeting with the nominee to ask additional questions.
Casey cosponsored a resolution in September 2016 prohibiting the Senate from adjourning until it voted on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy occasioned by Scalia’s death.
The Casey/Manchin news indicates the small pool of Democrats from which Gorsuch could draw support is quickly retracting.
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