On Thursday, Senate Republicans went “nuclear” — overturning long-standing rules of the Senate — to push through the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, as reported by The New York Times. Their hand was forced by a Democratic filibuster which insisted on reviving the ghost of Merrick Garland’s hopes and dreams of sitting on the highest court in the country. Republicans are responsible for starting the shameful snowball of perverting tradition, but by seeking revenge for Garland, Democrats have pushed the GOP to desperate measures to gain a victory, putting the future Supreme Court in jeopardy.
As a result of enacting the nuclear option, the regular 60 votes required to confirm a justice is now reduced to only 50 votes. This rule change has deep implications and Democratic roots. Former Democratic Senator Harry Reid went nuclear when he was Majority Leader on the vote threshold for cabinet nominees in order to help former President Barack Obama’s cabinet pass be confirmed in 2013. This gave Democrats a short-term victory but also led to disastrous appointees in Trump’s administration — like Secretary Betsy DeVos — who would likely not have gotten 60 votes had this precedent not been set. A pattern has begun and Congress is now in a position that the Trump administration can exploit — they can now nominate a hard-righter to the court with a strong likelihood of getting them confirmed.
What made the Democratic filibuster short-sighted is the frightening chance that another Supreme Court position will soon open up. Trump is salivating over the idea of more empty seats — Gorsuch’s nomination is an attempt to coax sitting Justice Anthony Kennedy into retirement. Not to mention that leading liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in her eighties. If the unthinkable were to happen and seats were to open up, the new interpretation of the law may take a sharp right turn for decades to come.
If the Democrats knew that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would go nuclear and force Gorsuch through anyway, then they are equally at fault for this disaster. The only silver lining is that this is a two-way street — it is now easier for Democrats to put more liberal justices on the court, but only if they regain control of the Senate in 2018. But even then, the ability for Senate members to confirm justices closer to their respective ends of the political spectrum is another loss for compromise — an ideal that has been absent in a Congress that is split on bitter partisan lines. Liberals must be ready for the fight to come, and the first step is heading to the voting booth in 2018.
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