ALMOST THERE: Gorsuch Gets Thumbs Up From Senate Panel

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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The Senate Committee on the Judiciary voted to favorably report Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the full Senate Monday in an 11-9 vote.

There was little suspense ahead of the committee vote — most members of the panel had already taken a public position with respect to the nomination. The vote followed party lines.

“The committee’s vote today is the first vote in a process that will end this week with Judge Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court,” said Leonard Leo, who advises President Donald Trump on judicial nominations. “Judge Gorsuch is a man of extraordinary legal talent committed to interpreting the Constitution as it’s written. His jurisprudence and decisions are in the mainstream of American legal thought, which is why his nomination has received bipartisan support.”

The mark-up largely mirrored March’s confirmation hearings. Republicans lavished praise on a nominee they called mainstream and eminently qualified, while Democrats reiterated objections that the judge consistently aligned with powerful constituencies at the expense of disadvantaged litigants. Democrats also repeatedly invoked allegations that “dark money” was driving political activity in support of Gorsuch’s confirmation, while Republicans countered that anti-Gorsuch groups on the left had shady financiers of their own.

The uncertainty as proceedings began was largely related to whether a handful of Democrats on the panel would join a filibuster of Gorsuch’s nomination led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy both confirmed they would join their party’s efforts to block the nomination during the Monday hearing, ensuring a showdown in the chamber over the so-called nuclear option.

Though Democrats are under intense pressure from liberal advocacy groups to use any and all means to stymie the 49-year-old Scalia-ite’s assent to the high court, there was some question as to whether several party veterans, including Feinstein and Leahy, would back a play that would further precipitate the erosion of norms in the Senate. During their lengthy tenures in Congress, Feinstein and Leahy have both cultivated reputations as “institutionalists” or lawmakers willing to buck the interests of their party to preserve consensus and tradition. Leahy voted with Republicans to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts, while Feinstein has frequently supported lower court nominees put forward by Republican presidents.

Their announcement leaves Democrats just one vote short of a successful filibuster, which in turn will force Republicans to abolish the 60-vote threshold required to move a Supreme Court nominee to the floor for a confirmation vote.

Two other Trump nominees, Rod Rosenstein and Rachel Brand, were approved by the committee. Both were selected for senior posts at the U.S. Department of Justice and won bipartisan support.

The panel’s approval came after committee Democrats delayed the vote for one week.

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