Democrats Secure Votes To Filibuster Supreme Court Nominee Gorsuch

Apr 3, 2017
Originally published on April 4, 2017 3:13 pm

Senate Democrats on Monday secured the votes needed to filibuster Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. This sets up a political fight that will substantially change the way the Senate considers future high court nominees.

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Forty-one Democratic senators have now publicly announced they intend to block the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court with a filibuster. That will prevent Republicans from reaching the 60 votes they need to move the Gorsuch nomination on to a final vote. And that sets the stage for an historic change to the Senate's filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominees. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports the drama unfolded today as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to send the Gorsuch nomination to the Senate floor.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Amid the ritual table pounding, the overriding sentiment in the Judiciary Committee hearing room was a sense of sadness that a way of life, indeed, a way of governance, was on the verge of ending. Twenty-five years of escalating tit-for-tat politics over judicial nominations have finally reached the point of explosion. And in a sign of the times, neither side seems willing to step back from the brink.

Republicans said this was the first partisan filibuster in the nation's history, while Democrats pointed to the unprecedented blockade of President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, noting that the refusal to even consider the nomination for nearly a year was itself a form of partisan filibuster. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who's voted for six Republican Supreme Court nominees in the past, said that he had unhappily reached the breaking point.


PATRICK LEAHY: The majority leader has promised to use whatever tactic is necessary to get his way, even if that means forever damaging the United States Senate. I never expected to be here long enough to become the dean of the Senate, but I have. And for those 42 years, I've devoted myself to the good the Senate can accomplish. But I cannot vote solely to protect an institution when the rights of hardworking Americans are at risk because I fear that the Senate I would be defending no longer exists.

TOTENBERG: Republican Lindsey Graham, who was among a handful of Republicans who voted for President Obama's two successful Supreme Court nominees, had this assessment of what the future holds.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: We're headed to a world where you don't need one person from the other side to pick a judge. That means the judges are going to be more ideological, not less. It means that every Senate seat's going to be a referendum on the Supreme Court.

TOTENBERG: Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin followed up.


DICK DURBIN: It breaks my heart to find us in this position. I love this place. I've been here for a big part of my life.

TOTENBERG: And, as he observed, the Senate's traditions are about to change. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.