On April 3rd, the same day Supreme Court Justice appointee Neil Gorsuch was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee (strictly upon partisan lines), four Senators announced that they would be opposing Judge Gorsuch, “bringing the Democrat caucus to the 41 votes needed to sustain a filibuster.” It would be the first filibuster of a Supreme Court Justice nominee since 1968 and seen by many as a response to the Republican nearly year-long move in 2016 to oppose President Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to fill the seat vacated by the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, a stalwart conservative on the Court.
And in politics, as with everything else, for every action, there is an equal or opposite reaction. In this case, the Republican reaction to the Democratic filibuster is to take the “Nuclear Option.”
The nuclear option is a parliamentary procedure to be invoked by the presiding officer of the Senate (currently Republican Mitch McConnell from Kentucky), which allows the Senate to override a super-majority of 60 votes to a simple majority of 51 votes The nuclear option is also known as the “Constitutional Option,” and the “Reid Rule.” In 2013, as a reaction to Republican barriers to Obama appointees, then-Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked the nuclear option to eliminate all filibusters on presidential nominees, except for those appointed to the Supreme Court. This came as an unwelcomed insult to then-Senate Republican Minority Leader McConnell, who said “I don’t think this is a time to be talking about reprisal. I think it’s a time to be sad about what has been done to the United States Senate.”
Today, we will see what the Senate GOP will decide. Currently, Republicans hold a majority in the Senate of 52 to 48, just 8 votes short of preventing a filibuster, which has been vowed to by 43 Democrat Senators. However, this may be McConnell and the Republicans’ big chance to retaliate against the Democrats for “breaking the rules of the Senate” in 2013.
But is this a good move?
When Democrats went nuclear four years ago, Republicans warned that the day would come where they would have a majority and the option would then be in GOP hands. Their prediction has now come to fruition. It is clear from the committee’s “approval” of Gorsuch that there is a political and partisan bias at play; not against Gorsuch, but against President Trump. But this has not left Senate Republicans worried about the outcome. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz warned that “it would be a mistake for Democrats to filibuster Judge Gorsuch. They will not succeed.” And that, though he once warned Democrats not to go nuclear, the option is now “on the table.”
But are the Republicans forgetting their own advice? The day will come where Democrats have control of the Senate, and will eventually be called to vote on a Supreme Court appointee. When that day comes, will Republicans look back on today as a mistake? Or, could this be the linchpin that holds the wheels of GOP power together for future appointees?
Has the spirit of faction gone too far? Has bias and politics clouded the vision of our many representatives? Let us keep in mind the words of Neil Gorsuch, that “someone who is not willing to listen with an open mind to the arguments of counsel, to [his] colleagues, and to precedent, someone who is willing to just, willy-nilly, disregard those three things, to effect his own personal views, his politics, his personal preferences. That is unacceptable.”