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Leahy Announces Support Of Democratic Filibuster On Gorsuch Vote

J. Scott Applewhite
Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, from left, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee's ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, April 3, 2017.

Sen. Patrick Leahy announced Monday morning that he will support an effort by Senate Democrats to filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.Leahy said in a statement that Gorsuch "refused to address any substantive issues during his testimony" and that the nomination puts "the rights of hardworking Americans" at risk.

Last week, Sen. Leahy made it clear that he would oppose the Gorsuch appointment, but he also said it was unlikely that he would support a Democratic effort to indefinitely delay the Senate's consideration of the nomination.

Currently, under Senate rules, Supreme Court nominees need 60 votes to be approved, and it appears unlikely that Gorsuch will receive this threshold vote.

That's because at least 41 Democratic senators, including Leahy, have announced that they'll support a motion to "filibuster," or block the nomination from coming to the Senate floor for a vote.

If the Democrats filibuster later this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has threatened to invoke what is known as the "nuclear option."

It's a procedure that would change the rules of the Senate to allow a Supreme Court nominee to be confirmed with only a simple majority of votes.

Speaking during the Judiciary committee's nomination hearing, Leahy said he feels compelled to support the Democratic filibuster because GOP leaders are proceeding with a highly partisan agenda.

“The majority leader has promised to use whatever tactic is necessary to get his way to make sure that Donald Trump's nominee is confirmed, even if that means forever damaging the United States Senate," said Leahy.  

And Leahy is still angry that GOP leaders last year failed to consider President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland.

"Some members even refused to meet with him,” said Leahy. “What a shameful stain on the proud history of this committee.”

Leahy noted that he has voted six times in the past to support the nominee of a Republican president but he says he can't do it this time because he's convinced Judge Gorsuch is determined to implement a very conservative agenda on the Court.

“As a judge he twisted statutory language to limit the rights of workers and women and children with disabilities, and he reached for broad constitutional questions that were not before him in order to advance his agenda," said Leahy.  

Could the Senate Republicans' decision to change the rules for Court nominees have an impact on the future workings of the Senate? Middlebury College political science professor Matt Dickinson thinks the answer is yes.

“It raises the possibility of going the next step, which is just eliminating the filibuster on all legislation,” said Dickinson. “And 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 previously announced that he'll vote against the Gorsuch appointment and that he'll also support Democratic efforts to filibuster the nomination.

Update 5:42 p.m. This post has been updated to include additional reporting.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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