Senate showdown over Gorsuch nomination
Republicans vowed to enact a historic rule change in the Senate this week in order to confirm Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch, after Democrats said they would mount an unprecedented single-party filibuster against Gorsuch’s confirmation. As The Week went to press, the Senate had begun a formal debate on the 49-year-old federal appeals court judge. If Democrats use the filibuster to stop that debate from proceeding to a confirmation vote, as expected, Republicans will need 60 votes to break the blockade. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Republicans would instead trigger the “nuclear option,” changing long-standing Senate rules to allow Supreme Court picks to advance with a simple 51-vote majority. “What I can tell you is that Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week,” said McConnell.
Republicans and Democrats traded bitter blows over the looming rule change. In a marathon 15-hour speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said that Republicans had driven Democrats to filibuster Gorsuch by picking an outsidethe- mainstream judge to fill a “stolen” seat—a reference to the GOP’s refusal to consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans said Gorsuch was more than qualified and accused Democrats of dragging the Senate “into the abyss” by forcing them to deploy the nuclear option. “This is going to haunt the Senate,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
What the columnists said
Neil Gorsuch may soon be on the Supreme Court bench, and he “is more dangerous than he appears,” said Nancy Gertner in The Boston Globe. Though he appears mild-mannered, his approach is staunchly pro-business and “far out of the mainstream.” He once sided with a company that fired a trucker who abandoned his broken-down rig in minus-14-degree temperatures. If Republicans have their way, Gorsuch could be on the bench in time for this term’s biggest case, said Adam Liptak in The New York Times. It involves the separation of church and state in Missouri, and the new conservative justice “is likely to cast the decisive vote.”
Democrats made their bed and now they have to lie in it, said the Washington Examiner in an editorial. In Gorsuch, they opposed an “obviously qualified” nominee and pushed Republicans toward the nuclear option by destroying every other Senate norm in their path. That includes the filibuster, which Democrats were the first to abolish to smooth the way for Obama’s appeals court and executive branch nominees in 2013.
Both parties may have damaged the Supreme Court forever, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. The threat of a filibuster used to guarantee that presidents picked moderate nominees. Without that threat, presidents with a Senate majority can nominate any “political hack” they want. So prepare yourself for “a parade of partisans” in the coming years. “Are we ready for Justice Keith Ellison?” Or “Justice Steve King, anyone?”