Leahy, Sanders Oppose Gorsuch Nomination As Democrats Threaten To Filibuster

Mar 27, 2017

Vermont's two U.S. senators are opposing Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's pick to the Supreme Court. But the Senate is also on the verge of changing how it considers such controversial nominations in the future.

Under current rules, it takes 60 votes in the Senate to confirm a Supreme Court nominee, because that's the threshold needed to stop a filibuster, a procedural move to block the vote indefinitely.

In recent days, Senate Democratic leaders have made it very clear they will choose to filibuster to stop Judge Neil Gorsuch from assuming a seat on the high court.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a member of the Senate Judiciary committee, says it's likely that he'll vote against the Gorsuch nomination in committee because he thinks Gorsuch is being backed by a number of right-wing special-interest groups.

“The more important thing is, at this point I cannot support Neil Gorsuch," Leahy said at a press conference in Colchester Monday.

But Leahy says he's not sure that he'll support the filibuster strategy, even though it appears there are the votes needed to stop the nomination. Leahy says he wants to review written testimony submitted by Gorsuch before he makes a decision.

"I don't know, I'll discuss that with them when I go back, I've got an open mind there," said Leahy.

"At this point, I cannot support Neil Gorsuch." — Sen. Patrick Leahy

If Senate Democrats go through with their filibuster threat, Senate Majority leader Mitch Mc Connell says his caucus might vote to change the rules.

The GOP members would effectively eliminate the filibuster for court nominees and then require a simple majority for confirmation.

Matt Dickinson is a political science professor at Middlebury College. He thinks the Democrats are taking a gamble with their filibuster threat because he says Gorsuch will still be confirmed if the Republicans change the rules.

"One way or the other, the Republicans are not going to let Gorsuch get denied. He will be confirmed,” said Dickinson. “The question is, what's the ancillary damage here, the collateral damage? And that's what I think the Democrats have to think carefully about."

Dickinson believes many Democrats are willing to force this issue at this time because they are still upset that Senate Republicans refused to hold any votes last year on President Obama's Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

"The Republicans are not going to let Gorsuch get denied ... The question is, what's the ancillary damage here, the collateral damage?" — Middlebury College political science professor Matt Dickinson

"It's not just the Democratic senators who are upset, but it's also their base, it's their donors, all of whom think that the Republicans, in not even bringing Garland up for a vote in the last session, violated a deep-seated norm,” said Dickinson.

Dickinson is concerned that a move to eliminate a filibuster in this instance could have a long lasting impact on the operations of the Senate.

"It raises the possibility of going the next step which is just eliminate the filibuster on all pieces of legislation,” said Dickinson. “That would change the character of the Senate which would no longer be distinct from the House in the sense that individual prerogatives would be subsumed to the larger fight between the two parties."

Sen. Bernie Sanders has announced that he will vote against Gorsuch. Sanders is backing efforts to filibuster the nomination because he says all nominees should have some bi-partisan support.

The Senate Judiciary committee is scheduled to vote on the Gorsuch nomination early next week.