Mitch McConnell, a Republican, represents Kentucky in the Senate and is majority leader.
The day after Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court was announced, I wrote about his sterling credentials, record of independence and long history of bipartisan support — and predicted they would matter little to hard-left special interests that invariably oppose the Supreme Court nominees of any Republican president. I asked Democrats to ignore those extreme voices and their attacks and join us instead in giving Gorsuch fair consideration and an up-or-down vote, as we did for the first-term Supreme Court nominees of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Unfortunately, Democrats made a different choice.
On Thursday, Democrats mounted the first successful partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee in U.S. history; in other words, a partisan Democratic minority tried to block the bipartisan majority that supported Gorsuch from even voting on his nomination. It was a direct attack on the traditions of the Senate and yet another extreme escalation in Democrats’ decades-long drive to transform judicial confirmations from constructive debates over qualifications into raw ideological struggles.
Their success in tearing down Robert Bork in 1987 taught Democrats that any method was acceptable so long as it advanced their aim of securing power. In 2003, when President George W. Bush was nominating judges, Democrats pioneered the idea of using routine filibusters to stop them; in 2013, when Obama was nominating judges, Democrats invoked the “nuclear option” to prevent others from doing the same. It was a tacit admission that they should have respected the Senate’s long-standing tradition of up-or-down votes for judicial nominees in the first place.
But Democrats did leave themselves one notable loophole, allowing future Supreme Court nominees to be denied an up-or-down vote via a partisan filibuster. It’s a tactic that Democrats had tried before — most recently when they attempted, unsuccessfully, to sink Bush’s nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. in 2006 — and a tactic, by the way, that Senate Republicans have never employed.
So why did Democrats mount this unprecedented partisan filibuster? Because Gorsuch wasn’t qualified? No, our colleagues agree he’s well-qualified. Their objection was really that a president of a different party had nominated him — and because hard-left groups like those I warned about back in February demanded it. Some Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), even mused openly about holding the seat vacant indefinitely. So it didn’t really matter who the nominee was, it became clear that Democrats were determined to deny that person a vote.
This unprecedented attack on the traditions of the Senate, if allowed to succeed, would have resulted in a brazen new standard — that the nominees of Democratic presidents would be allowed to proceed to up-or-down votes, but the nominees of Republican presidents would have to secure supermajority support to do so — an obviously untenable situation.
I urged Democrats to reconsider. I regret that they could not be dissuaded from their latest and most audacious attack on the norms and traditions of the Senate. And while I regret the inevitable consequence of their decision, I welcome the opportunity to fully restore the Senate to its historic norms of up-or-down, majority votes for all nominations. That is how things operated before Democrats pioneered the idea of routinely filibustering judges 14 years ago. Moreover, since this rules change does not touch the legislative filibuster — something I will protect as long as I am majority leader — what happened in the Senate Thursday will actually change little moving forward. Most bills will still require 60 votes to get through. Nominees will require 51 votes to get through, as they did before.
That’s just what happened with the Gorsuch nomination. I was proud to take that vote. I think he’s going to make a fantastic addition to the court. The Senate, of course, does a lot more than confirm Supreme Court justices. This is an important institution with an important role to play in the many issues we’ll consider in the coming months. Each member, regardless of party, can have a critical role in that process — if they choose to do so.
I ask Democrats to consider the significant things we’ve been able to achieve in recent years when we worked together. Democrats can continue listening to those on the left who call for blind “resistance” to anything and everything this president proposes, but we can get more done by working together. Perhaps this is the moment Democrats will begin again to listen to the many Americans — the people who sent us here — who want real solutions, so we can work together to help move our country forward.
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