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Neil Gorsuch speaking before the Senate.
Neil Gorsuch; image courtesy of Susan Walsh, AP

On Tuesday, the Senate voted to formally move forward with debate on Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination.

Senators voted 55-44 to proceed with Gorsuch’s nomination, with Republican Senators finding backing from three of their liberal colleagues. An ongoing filibuster stalled the process, prompting criticism from the political right as well as commander-in-chief Donald Trump. Critics of Senate Democrats have said the delay amounts to little more than payback for a failed presidential election.

Even with a vote in place, insiders have indicated to publications like The Hill that Gorsuch is “expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to overcome Thursday’s procedural hurdle.”

Chuck Schumer speaks at a podium emblazoned with the logo of his office while onlookers stand behind him, watching.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer; image courtesy of Shawn Thew, European Pressphoto Agency

The standoff in Senate has introduced the possibility of what has been termed “the Nuclear Option.” If Gorsuch isn’t approved to take a spot on the Supreme Court, Republicans have signaled that they’ll change congressional rules to allow future SCOTUS nominees to pass through the Senate with a simple majority.

“No one is making our Republican colleagues change the rules,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “No one is forcing Senator McConnell to change the rules. He’s doing it of his own volition.”

“The Republicans are free actors,” he said on Monday. “They can choose to go nuclear or they can sit down with Democrats and find a way to preserve the grand traditions of this body.”

Schumer, along with many other Democrats, have been demanding a withdrawal of Gorsuch’s nomination rather than a total revision of the senatorial process governing it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’s confident he has the votes necessary to support an overhaul of the nomination procedure.

“This is a new low,” McConnell, of Kentucky, said of the then-impending filibuster. “But not entirely surprising.”

Somewhat unexpectedly, given his rhetoric, McConnell had led Republicans in “refusing to even consider” the nomination put forward by President Barack Obama following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Conservatives, for their part, are baffled by the opposition to Gorsuch. Scalia, after all, had been approved unanimously and without either fluster or fanfare.

“It’s pathetic,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, “that they’re so stupid that they picked somebody of his quality and ability” to filibuster.

However, Gorsuch has not been a straightforward and simple pick. Detractors of Gorsuch in the Senate have questioned his previous rulings and moral dexterity.

Of particular concern was the case of the “Frozen Trucker.” Alphonse Maddin, a former trucker for TransAm, sued after being terminated in the aftermath of a massive snowstorm. Maddin’s semi had broken down on the side of the road while a blizzard raged outside. As his heater began malfunctioning and the temperature in the cab dropped, Maddin detached his trailer – the brakes on which had locked, stranding him – and went to seek shelter. Despite knowing that Maddin had waited hours for the roadside mechanic promised by his boss, Gorsuch wrote in a dissenting opinion that Maddin should have followed TransAm’s guideline to the letter and not abandoned his load.

Other criticisms of Gorsuch center on his status as a Constitutional “originalist.”

Not every Republican is enthused about pressing a red button and going nuclear.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from North Carolina, aired his concerns that a simple majority vote would lead future nominations to become more ideological rather than less political.

“This is going to haunt the Senate, it’s going to change the judiciary, and it’s so unnecessary,” said Graham.

Sources

The ‘Case of the Frozen Trucker’ emerges again

Democrats’ Vow to Filibuster Ensures Bitter Fight Over Gorsuch

The Gorsuch filibuster is about far more than payback

Senate starts debate on Gorsuch nomination

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