A Senate panel is expected to approve President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, setting the stage for a bruising partisan battle in the full Senate that could forever alter how the chamber operates.
As the majority party, Republicans have the votes to approve Gorsuch in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, even if, as expected, all Democrats line up in opposition. After that, questions abound.
Three more Democratic senators, Claire McCaskill, Richard Blumenthal and Brian Schatz, announced their opposition to Gorsuch Friday, setting up a confrontation with Republicans.
Democrats have said they will use a procedure called a filibuster that requires 60 votes to win a confirmation in the 100-seat Senate.
Republicans control the Senate by a 52-48 margin but if Democrats can garner 41 votes, they would be able to sustain the filibuster. As of Friday, 36 Democrats said they would support the move.
If Democrats gain enough support to block a confirmation in the week ahead, Republicans are expected to try to unilaterally change long-standing Senate rules to allow confirmation by a simple majority.
Republicans are incensed at the Democratic plan, arguing filibusters of Supreme Court justices are rare. A partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee has never succeeded.
Some Democrats have charged Republicans with stealing a Supreme Court seat last year when the Republican-majority Senate refused to consider U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominee, appellate judge Merrick Garland, to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia – who died in February 2016.
Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer warned Republicans Friday of changing the rules so that a simple majority is required. Such a rule change could allow all future Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed regardless of opposition from the minority party.
In his weekly radio address, President Trump praised Gorsuch for his adherence to the Constitution, the supreme law of the U.S.
“In recent years, we’ve seen more and more judges make decisions not based on the Constitution or the rule of law, but based on their preferences, their personal views, or even their political opinions,” Trump said.
The president applauded Gorsuch’s testimony during recent Senate confirmation hearings, saying “what has been clear to all is that Judge Gorsuch is a man who respects the law. He defends the Constitution. And in doing so, he will protect our freedoms.”
Gorsuch, 49 years old, is a federal appeals court judge in the western city of Denver, Colorado. If confirmed, Gorsuch would fill the seat vacated by Scalia, and reinstate the nine-seat high court’s conservative majority.