Both Parties Prepare for Gorsuch Hearing Battle
Republican Senators managed to hold a Supreme Court seat vacant for over a year, but now they are ready to get down to business. Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing begins on March 20th and both sides of the political aisle are prepping for a battle that has been nearly 14 months in the making.
If Gorsuch is approved by the Senate, he will replace one of the most conservative Supreme Court justices in recent history – Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia died suddenly in January 2016, but Senate Republicans blocked the confirmation hearings of President Barack Obama’s appointee, Judge Merrick Garland for months until they eked out a surprise White House victory in the November 2016 election.
Their attitude on holding the court at a mere eight judges changed dramatically once President Donald Trump was sworn into office. Within two weeks Trump announced Gorsuch as his nominee, and now, just seven weeks later he is about to face his first Senate hearing. Considering how little anyone knew about the 49 year-old Colorado Appeals Court judge it is a hasty timeline, and one that some Democrats say isn’t long enough.
“Last month, [California Senator Diane] Feinstein — the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee — requested information from Gorsuch about all ‘significant’ cases in which Gorsuch helped make decisions about litigation or craft strategy. But Feinstein says in a new letter sent to the nominee on Tuesday: ‘This has not yet been done,’” Politico reports. “’Documents provided by the Justice Department demonstrate you had a leading role in litigation and strategy over executive power and national security matters that have not yet been identified to the committee,’ Feinstein (D-Calif.) wrote to Gorsuch. ‘The committee simply must have materials fully documenting your role in important litigation about executive power during the administration of President George W. Bush.’”
While those documents unsurprisingly haven’t made it before deadline – a trend with so many of Trump’s appointees – Democrats have seen enough to know that they are opposed. Democratic groups are pushing senators to not confirm Gorsuch, pointing to problematic rulings and demanding that the Democrats stand in unity against the nominee. In early March a group of 11 progressive political organizations signed a letter demanding that all Senate Democrats refuse to confirm.
“Democrats have failed to demonstrate a strong, unified resistance to this nominee despite the fact that he is an ultra-conservative jurist who will undermine our basic freedoms and threaten the independence of the federal judiciary,” they wrote. “We need you to do better.”
On March 15th they escalated their efforts, bringing a protest to the U.S. Supreme Court building itself. There they displayed over a million signatures of people opposed to Gorsuch’s nomination.
“The progressive coalition The People’s Defense — a bloc of advocacy groups like NARAL, MoveOn, End Citizens United, Stand Up America and People for the American Way — organized a protest in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., which featured remarks by Democratic lawmakers and prominent advocates, and called on Trump opponents to fight harder in their efforts to keep Gorsuch off the nation’s top appellate bench,” UPI News reports. “‘Gorsuch’s nomination represents an imminent threat to America’s most cherished rights and most vulnerable citizens, and millions of Americans across the country are demanding that Democratic leadership use everything in their power to block it,’ the alliance said. ‘We must be clear: This fight is not about defensive electoral politics, it’s about our rights as Americans and our democracy as a whole.’”
The Democratic advocacy groups are calling for a filibuster of Gorsuch, who would then need 60 votes in order to be confirmed. But Republicans have their own plan to deal with a potential filibuster: Going nuclear. One arm of the GOP would like to drop the ability to filibuster and replace it instead with a simple majority vote, an idea that President Trump fully embraces.
“If we end up with that gridlock I would say, ‘If you can, Mitch, go nuclear,’” Trump said in early February according to Time Magazine. “Because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was put up to that neglect. I would say it’s up to Mitch, but I would say, ‘Go for it.’”
While some conservatives like the idea and the precedent it sets – especially if they get a second nomination to the court and the opportunity to even more radically change its political makeup – others worry that it is a can of worms that will never be shut, and that will come back to haunt them when they are next in the minority. It is unclear if the GOP would be able to stand united enough to make the nuclear option happen.
Gorsuch hearings begin Monday, March 20th.
Photo credit: White House, via Wikimedia Commons