politics to go

Senator Schumer’s Supreme Court filibuster


After making sure that President Trump spent the first two months of his presidency without a full cabinet, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer searched for new ways to delay Judge Neil Gorsuch’s inevitable senate approval as an associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

First, he urged Republicans to delay a vote on Gorsuch because of the ongoing investigation into potential ties between Trump officials and Russia. Then, after saying that Gorsuch was too conservative and might not be independent of President Trump, Schumer announced on the Senate floor on Thursday that he would lead a filibuster to delay a Gorsuch vote. As expected, Schumer warned the GOP not to use the “nuclear option” (which would end the filibuster). 

Schumer’s action was all about party politics, not Gorsuch’s qualifications. The justice has been widely praised as an excellent choice for the high court, receiving the American Bar Association’s highest rating. During his testimony, Gorsuch handled himself admirably despite being unfairly prodded by Judicial Committee Democrats. 

Gorsuch’s performance in the hearing was praised by commentators at the liberal cable news networks:

•CNN’s John King: “Democrats have not even bruised, blemished anything to this judge.”

•CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson: “Very warm, affable, down-home kind of person.”

•MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell: “This has been a slam dunk.”

•MSNBC’s Chris Jansing: “impressively disciplined performance.”

•MSNBC’s Ari Melbar: “I didn’t see a single glove laid on him. He performed himself admirably.”

 Of course, Schumer didn’t really care about Gorsuch’s qualification or his glowing ABA endorsement. He didn’t even care about the fact that 97 percent of the 2,700 cases he decided on as part of the three-judge appellate court panel were unanimous, and he was in the majority 99 percent of the time, indicating that his opinions aren’t out of the norm. 

Schumer complained that it was “the height of irony” that Republicans blocked President Obama from filling the Supreme Court seat but are “now rushing” to confirm Gorsuch, ignoring the fact that it was a Democrat (Senator Joe Biden, in 1992) who first advocated not filling a Supreme Court seat in a president’s final year.

Senator Schumer took this even further. In July 2007, he promised to try to filibuster any candidate that President Bush nominated, not because it was an election year but because such a judge would presumably be a conservative.

“We should not confirm any Bush nominee to the Supreme Court except in extraordinary circumstances. They must prove by actions not words that they are in the mainstream rather than we have to prove that they are not.”

Despite all this, the Republicans easily supported President Obama’s two court picks ‎made before the campaign season, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

One way or another, despite Schumer’s efforts, Gorsuch will be on the Supreme Court before Tax Day. If there is a filibuster, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will invoke the “nuclear option” and reduce the number of need votes from 60 to a simple majority. If the filibuster is removed for this Supreme Court pick, it will be gone for all Supreme Court picks. 

“Supreme Court justices are always confirmed with a bi-partisan vote above the 60-plus filibuster threshold,” Schumer said. 

But that’s not exactly true. Nominees by Democratic presidents usually zip through with little or no opposition, while Democrats have not always been as deferential toward Republican nominees. Robert Bork, a brilliant jurist, was slandered by Ted Kennedy and rejected; Clarence Thomas was slandered and passed but with only 52 votes, and Samuel Alito, also slandered, was approved with only 52 votes.

It will be interesting to see how this all ends up. Will Schumer continue to put party before country and block a simple up or down vote by the Senate, calling for a filibuster and destroying the filibuster as a option for all future Supreme Court candidates? If Schumer allows the nuclear option to be implemented, the next Republican court nominee will not be as “moderate” as Gorsuch.