Gorsuch Advances, Filibuster Looms

41 Dems have said they support blocking nominee unanimously confirmed to Appeals Court in 2006

Judge Neil Gorsuch / Getty Images
April 3, 2017

Appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch cleared committee on a party line vote and is poised to become the first Supreme Court nominee in history to face a filibuster when he reaches the Senate floor Friday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend the nomination to the full Senate on Monday. Gorsuch, who was unanimously confirmed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006, advanced through committee without a single Democratic vote.

The nomination could prove historic after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to block Gorsuch using the filibuster. He appears to have obtained the necessary support after Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) announced that he would back the filibuster. Coons, who had said in January that he would "push for a vote" on Gorsuch, became the 41st Democrat to join the opposition campaign—enough votes to prevent Republicans from breaking the filibuster.

Democratic Sens. Heidi Keitkamp (S.D.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), and Joe Manchin (W.V.) have all come out in support of Gorsuch. All three are up for reelection in states that Trump carried in 2018. Other Democratic Senators in red states have joined in the filibuster, including Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jon Tester (Mont.).

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed a willingness to change the Senate rules to confirm Gorsuch on a majority vote, just as Schumer did in 2013 to push several controversial Obama nominees through the Senate.

Republican advisers and legal watchdogs are confident that Gorsuch will be confirmed to fill the vacancy left by Judge Antonin Scalia's death in February 2016 regardless of the filibuster. Leonard Leo, President Trump's legal advisor, predicted that the "process that will end this week with Judge Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court," in a statement released following the committee vote.

"Senator Schumer and some of his Democratic colleagues are going to break over 200 years of Senate tradition because they want a Supreme Court Justice to rubber-stamp their far-left political agenda," Leo said in a statement. "The Constitution and Senate history [say] that it takes 51 votes to confirm a Supreme Court Justice, and that’s what Senator McConnell is going to ensure if he is forced to do so."

Carrie Severino, the head of the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), said that Gorsuch faces "unprecedented obstruction." JCN has spent more than $10 million advocating for confirmation specifically targeting red state Democrats. Severino said the group is prepared to defend Senate Republicans in the event that they invoke the rule change, which is also known as the nuclear option.

"Leader McConnell and his colleagues will have no choice but to invoke the constitutional option to preserve the Senate tradition of up or down votes," Severino said in a statement. "I look forward to standing with Leader McConnell and his colleagues, and to celebrating the confirmation of this exceptionally qualified nominee."

Liberal activists have put pressure on Democrats to block Trump's legal nominations and are rallying to Schumer's defense if he follows through on the filibuster threat. Vicki Saporta, CEO of the National Abortion Federation, said that her organization would "strongly oppose" Gorsuch and urged the Senate to maintain the filibuster.

"Gorsuch's record of hostility to reproductive freedom speaks clearly about his views and the way he would rule if confirmed to our nation's highest court," Saporta said in a statement. "We believe Gorsuch would put women's lives and health in jeopardy. Senators must hold to the 60-vote threshold and defeat this unacceptable nominee."

Gorsuch's nomination is expected to hit the Senate floor on Friday.