WASHINGTON — The day after President Donald Trump announced U.S. Circuit Court Judge Neil Gorsuch as his choice to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, Senate Democrats began to ponder just how far they should go in opposing him.
Trump picked Gorsuch to take the place of the late Justice Antonin Scalia at a time when he’s shaking up political norms and Democrats remain angry that Republicans held the seat open for nearly a year, refusing to even consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
And the 49-year-old Gorsuch’s conservative credentials have liberal activist groups up in arms demanding that Democrats stop him at any cost to prevent a right-leaning high court to undermine rights for women, workers and others.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) quickly declared that Democrats will make Republicans get a bipartisan 60 votes to break a filibuster to advance the nomination to a Senate confirmation vote.
“We Democrats will insist on a rigorous, but fair, process. There will be 60 votes for confirmation. Any one member can require it; many Democrats already have,” Schumer said in a floor speech Wednesday.
But some Democrats have avoided saying whether they will vote to totally block Gorsuch, amid concerns that Republicans might kill the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees in response or that 10 Democratic senators face re-election in 2018 in states Trump won last year.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) evaded a question about her stance. “I haven’t even met him,” said Heitkamp, who insisted she wasn’t making a political decision ahead of re-election in a Republican-leaning state next year.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) simply promised a fair vetting and a vote.
Some liberal senators, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), in an unusual move already said they will oppose Gorsuch before he’s even had a hearing. Gillibrand said his record as a judge shows he is “outside the mainstream” and puts corporate rights over individual rights.
Few Supreme Court nominees have faced a filibuster. But the votes for those appointees have become increasingly partisan over the years, said Jeffrey Segal, an expert on Supreme Court at Stony Brook University.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said Republicans did not filibuster any of Obama’s high court choices. “Sen. Schumer and some of his colleagues are proposing a new threshold for confirmation of Supreme Court nominees,” Stewart said.