Barely seven days have passed since Judge Neil Gorsuch offered his opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee as the hearing on his Supreme Court nomination kicked off.
And while Republicans have, as expected, praised Gorsuch for his decency and judicial sobriety, Democratic senators have exhibited doubts, skepticism and sentiments tantamount to contempt.
Similar feelings dominated comments made by national civil rights leaders during a recent news briefing after their careful analysis of Gorsuch’s testimony including the perspective of Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who testified before the committee on March 23.
“After [several] days of hearings, we know less than we did about Roberts,” Clarke said. “At moments, he’s been evasive and unresponsive and has been unwilling to state that the right to vote is important. He has a strong law and order perspective and in many cases, he has sided with law enforcement and deferred to them on excessive force issues.”
“Gorsuch’s nomination comes at a tumultuous time in history with a spike in hate crimes and ongoing efforts to [hinder] the minority vote. We need someone whose interpretation of the Constitution and criminal laws would not be a threat to all Americans. We are unable to support this nomination,” Clarke emphasized.
Other briefing participants included: Wade Henderson, president/CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Marc Morial, president/CEO, the National Urban League; the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder/president, National Action Network; Sherrilyn Ifill, president/director-counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and Melanie L. Campbell, president/CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener, Black Women’s Roundtable.
They all agreed that there’s much at stake with this nomination as Gorsuch could swing the Supreme Court to the right as it addresses issues ranging from voting rights and criminal justice jurisprudence to housing and employment discrimination. And while the Republicans remain in the majority, several decisions must be made by the all-but-powerless Democrats.
Democrats could threaten a filibuster as Republicans, with 52 votes, lack the required 60 needed to overcome it. Still, they do have enough, if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided, to change the rules. By exercising the “nuclear option,” the GOP can eliminate the filibuster and confirm Gorsuch with 51 votes.
McConnell, however, has said changing the rules comes with a cost — when the filibuster goes, it’s gone for good. Further, both the current GOP majority and White House could be eradicated in a few years — opening the door for the Democrats to advocate for their own justice of choice.
Ironically, the Dems faced a similar decision in 2013, albeit with much lower stakes, and moved ahead, using the nuclear option so that President Obama’s nominees, then being held up by Republicans, could be confirmed.
It should be noted that it [the nuclear option] only applied to executive branch appointments — cabinet nominees and judicial nominations not including the Supreme Court. Earlier this year, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told a CNN reporter that he now regrets the move.
One briefing participant said he could not support any Republican nominee after the GOP held up Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, for close to a year after being chosen to replace the late Antonin Scalia.
“So far, Gorsuch has given a fine performance — using a stolen script for a hijacked seat,” Sharpton said.
“He should never have even been there. There should have been a hearing for Garland. Any senator who chooses to engage in this exercise should be viewed as a lawbreaker who has chosen to avoid the legal powers of a sitting president. Republicans nuked the right of President Obama — you can’t just go around it or ignore it as if it never occurred,” Sharpton said.
Morial says given the obvious divisions that currently exist in America, he believes any Supreme Court justice should have “more than the required 60 votes.”
“We want and we need a justice who’s passionate and enthusiastic about civil rights in the 21st century,” he said. “By ducking and dodging and evading tough questions all while maintaining a calm demeanor illustrates that Gorsuch is a conservative activist who would go in with a hard, right agenda. This is a lifetime appointment and as such a nominee should have the support of senators from both sides of the aisle. The threshold of 60 votes should, at a minimum, be maintained.”
Ifill agreed with Sharpton’s view that Gorsuch pulled off a “brilliant performance.”
“He wants us to believe that he’s merely a humble servant of the law, modeling himself under Scalia as a lion of the law. We should take him at his word and conclude that he’d go even further than Scalia. That’s why we oppose his confirmation,” Ifill said.
Campbell’s opposition centered on her concerns about women’s rights.
“A review of Gorsuch’s past record suggests that he would be in favor of limiting women’s access to health care, birth control and funding to Planned Parenthood. Women’s equal access to justice is at stake with this nomination. We strongly oppose the nomination of Judge Gorsuch,” Campbell said.