Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Will Senate Dems cave on Trump SCOTUS nominee?

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports that The stage is set for a brutal Supreme Court fight.

Donald Trump announced yesterday that he’ll announce his Supreme Court nominee tonight, at a dramatic prime-time White House event. There’s been no official word about the president’s choice, though the short list has reportedly narrowed to a handful of conservative jurists.

Let’s start there. motherjones.com invites us to Meet the Top Contenders for Trump’s Supreme Court Pick.

William Pryor Jr. A federal judge on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Pryor previously succeeded Jeff Sessions as Alabama’s attorney general. Sessions, Trump’s nominee for US attorney general, has been Pryor’s top backer. Given Sessions’ considerable influence within the administration, this makes Pryor a leading candidate for the court. But Pryor would face a particularly contentious confirmation hearing. He was filibustered for his first federal judicial appointment during the George W. Bush administration because of what critics called his extremist anti-gay views.

Thomas Hardiman.He comes with an endorsement from Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, who serves with Hardiman on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. But when George W. Bush nominated Hardiman to a federal trial court in 2003, the American Bar Association gave him a lukewarm “qualified” rating.

Neil Gorsuch. Many court watchers, noting Trump’s “central casting” approach to staffing, consider the 10th Circuit judge the favorite for the high court seat, if for no other reason than “he looks the part,” as Empirical SCOTUS blogger Adam Feldman put it. David Lat, founder of legal affairs blog Above the Law, tweeted recently that Gorsuch seems like the obvious choice for Trump because “we all know Trump cares about looks, & Neil ‘Silver Fox’ Gorsuch is taller & handsomer than (the already good-looking) Bill Pryor.” Lat also noted, “Judge Gorsuch is a ’winner’—brilliant, pedigreed, tall, handsome—and Trump likes winners.” Unlike Pryor and Hardiman, Gorsuch is also an Ivy Leaguer.

Check out the Mother Jones article for more on these candidates and other possibilties.

We’ll find out who is the nominee this evening (Tuesday). Then the question is whether the Senate Dems have the gumption to play serious hardball in the same way that the Republicans did to Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Benen continues.

The nominee should not, however, expect a warm reception from the Senate Democratic minority. Politico reported yesterday:

Senate Democrats are going to try to bring down President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick no matter who the president chooses to fill the current vacancy.

With Trump prepared to announce his nominee on Tuesday evening, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said in an interview on Monday morning that he will filibuster any pick that is not Merrick Garland and that the vast majority of his caucus will oppose Trump’s nomination. That means Trump’s nominee will need 60 votes to be confirmed by the Senate.

“This is a stolen seat. This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat,” Merkley told Politico, echoing rhetoric he’s used before. “We will use every lever in our power to stop this.”

As for what you should expect from the process, there are a few angles worth watching. The first is whether Senate Democrats are able to stick together the way Senate Republicans did last year, and there’s already evidence that a Democratic blockade will have meaningful gaps.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, a member of the Judiciary Committee told CNN he is still seething over the Republicans’ decision to block Judge Merrick Garland from filling the seat when they refused to hold hearings and votes on his nomination last year.

“But I’m not going to do to President Trump’s nominee what the Republicans in the Senate did to President Obama’s,” Coons said. “I will push for a hearing and I will push for a vote.” Other Democrats privately agreed with that sentiment.

Second, if a Democratic filibuster has enough votes to prevent the nominee’s confirmation, there’s a very real possibility that Senate Republicans will execute their own version of the “nuclear option” and eliminate the 60-vote hurdle altogether.

Finally, let’s not forget that none of this is happening in a vacuum. Donald Trump’s agenda, including his controversial Muslim ban, will likely face tests at the high court, and senators who support Trump’s nominee are indirectly helping clear the way for the president’s most provocative priorities.

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