WASHINGTON ― Few Democrats came out Tuesday night promising to block President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared in a skeptical statement that his members would insist Neil Gorsuch secure 60 votes to be confirmed ― the number needed to break a filibuster.
Trump is able to make the nomination because Republicans blocked President Barack Obama’s court choice, leaving the high court seat vacant for more than 11 months.
Progressives have demanded that Schumer and Democrats react in kind, and roadblock any Trump nominee.
Schumer has not been willing to go that far, saying repeatedly that he will consider any nominee whose views he finds to be in the mainstream. But he laid down a 60-vote marker Tuesday night, suggesting a Gorsuch filibuster is a strong possibility.
“The Senate must insist upon 60 votes for any Supreme Court nominee, a bar that was met by each of President Obama’s nominees,” Schumer said in the statement. “The burden is on Judge Neil Gorsuch to prove himself to be within the legal mainstream and, in this new era, willing to vigorously defend the Constitution from abuses of the executive branch.”
And Schumer sounded doubtful the Colorado federal judge could make the case.
“Given his record, I have very serious doubts about Judge Gorsuch’s ability to meet this standard,” Schumer said. “Judge Gorsuch has repeatedly sided with corporations over working people, demonstrated a hostility toward women’s rights, and most troubling, hewed to an ideological approach to jurisprudence that makes me skeptical that he can be a strong, independent justice on the court.”
Schumer was referring to cases Gorsuch has decided that have made the 49-year-old a conservative star.
Schumer also suggested that with a man like Trump holding the presidency, and after the chaotic first two weeks of his reign, it would be more important than ever for Democrats to insist on a new justice who divorces his politics from the law.
“The new administration has violated our core values, challenged the separation of powers, and tested the very fabric of our Constitution in unprecedented fashion,” Schumer said. “It is clear that the Supreme Court will be tried in ways that few courts have been tested since the earliest days of the republic, when constitutional questions abounded.”
If Gorsuch has to pass the 60-vote threshold, and Democrats remain united, it could spark yet another showdown in the Senate over rules. Democrats used the so-called nuclear option to change the rules for lower court nominees in 2013 after the nation’s second-highest court, the appeals court for the federal circuit, was left four judges short of its normal complement because of GOP obstruction.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not taken that option off the table should Democrats obstruct as adamantly as Republicans did.
The Democrats’ 2016 vice presidential nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), made a case similar to Schumer’s.
“The importance of an appointment to the highest court in the land and the duty of upholding and defending our Constitution demand a higher threshold for confirmation than for any other appointee,” Kaine said. “The actions of the Trump administration over the past week raise the stakes to an even higher level.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post mislabeled Mitch McConnell as the Senate minority leader. He is the majority leader in that chamber.