The U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee votes today to submit the name of Neil Gorsuch to the full Senate for confirmation as the next U. S. Supreme Court justice.
What happens next is anyone's guess, and the options play out like the scene from a political science fiction movie. Meghan Leonard, Professor of Politics and Government at Illinois State University, and a judicial politics scholar, said during Sound Ideas the stage for all of this was set last year when the Republican-controlled Senate failed to call President Barack Obama's nominee Merrick Garland for a vote in an unprecedented move.
Leonard said Democrats have taken this with a great deal of resentment.
"We have never had a nomination not have a vote. Not even (a chance for Garland to) meet senators or be introduced or have a hearing. Democrats certainly feel like they've been robbed," said Leonard.
After the Senate Judiciary Committee votes along party lines to submit Gorsuch's name for confirmation by the full senate, any of several things could happen, according to Leonard. One could be a successful filibuster by Democrats.
"In order for that to happen, 40 Democrats would have to vote for it. If more than eight Democrats defect, if you will, and decide to go with the Republicans and vote for cloture, then (Sen. Minority Leader Chuck) Schumer's hands are tied and the filibuster won't happen," she continued.
If Democrats defect on the cloture vote, Leonard said they will likely come from states that voted for President Donald Trump in November, and are up for reelection next year.
"This would include states like West Virginia, North Dakota, Missouri, Florida and Pennsylvania. There are certainly more than eight people who are facing that type of political situation that are Democrats right now," said Leonard.
The pending FBI investigation into the Trump Administration's possible ties with Russia could play a part in whether the filibuster is successful, said Leonard.
"Democrats can plea to the public over and over again that this process should not go forward until there's a resolution (to that.)," she added"
If the Democrats fail to filibuster, Leonard said that's a signal Gorsuch could sail through to confirmation, possibly by the end of the week. Should Democrats garner enough support to head off cloture, Leonard said it could result in Republicans exercising what's been referred to as the 'nuclear' option--by voting to permanently cut off filibustering of Supreme Court nominees. This would create a consistent, simple majority path to confirmation to Gorsuch and all future nominees.
A further concern among Democrats, Leonard said, is what happens to subsequent Supreme Court nominees during a Trump Administration. Gorsuch would be replacing the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. With three liberal-leaning justices (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy) approaching or over age 80, there's a very good chance Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate could replace one or more of them with conservative-leaning justices, thus shifting the ideological balance of the Supreme Court.
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