Leahy joins filibuster effort against SCOTUS nominee

MONTPELIER — Sen. Patrick Leahy joined with most of his fellow Democrats in the Senate Monday and announced he will support a filibuster against President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sen. Patrick Leahy(AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

The Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Leahy is a senior member, voted 11-9 along party lines Monday to send Judge Neil Gorsuch’s name to the full Senate for confirmation later this week. But Leahy, and several other Democrats, announced their intention Monday to oppose what’s known as a cloture vote in the Senate. A cloture vote requires a threshold of at least 60 votes to end debate and move to a confirmation vote on the Senate floor.

At least 41 Democratic senators now say they will not vote for cloture, meaning majority Republicans will not be able to confirm Gorsuch in the traditional manner.

Leahy announced his position in a Judiciary Committee meeting Monday morning. He said his opposition to Gorsuch, who he is said was “excruciatingly evasive,” is based on the nominee’s unwillingness to answer questions during his confirmation hearings in the committee.

“Since taking office, President Trump has focused his attention on targeting the very communities that are most at risk by his choice for the Supreme Court – a nominee who, the White House tells us, shares his agenda. This nominee has since refused to address any substantive issues during his testimony. He has left this Committee and the American people with only unresolved concerns,” Leahy said.

Leahy noted that he has voted to confirm six Supreme Court nominees put forth by Republican presidents in the past. But Leahy said Gorusch’s refusal to provide clear answers, and the Republican’s treatment last year of former Democratic President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, helped form his opposition to Gorsuch.

Republicans refused to even hold confirmation hearings for Garland last year, arguing that the vacancy in the court, created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, should not occur during an election year.

“Unlike committee Republicans’ treatment of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, I take my constitutional duty to independently evaluate a president’s Supreme Court nominees seriously,” Leahy said. “They did not afford Chief Judge Merrick Garland the courtesy of a hearing. Some even refused to meet with him. What a shameful stain on the proud history of this committee.”

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, also decried Republicans’ treatment of Garland.

“There was simply no reason that the nomination of Judge Garland could not proceed, other than to deny the then-President of the United States President Barack Obama from filling the seat,” she said.

Now that Democrats have the 41 votes they need to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination, Senate Republicans are expected to change Senate rules to require a simple majority to advance to the confirmation vote. The move has been labeled the “nuclear option” because it will be a departure from tradition, which the Senate has been reluctant abandon.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., all but confirmed that the rules will be changed.

“If we have to we will chance the rules and it looks like we’re going to have to. I hate that. I really, really do,” Graham said.

Former Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada changed Senate rules during the Obama administration to require a simple majority vote for lower court nominations. Reid argued the change was needed to overcome sustained Republican obstruction.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

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