President Donald Trump’s newly announced Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, has begun to make the rounds in Washington ― meeting with senators, posing for pictures and hoping to get support from those on the fence about him.
That’s the same ritual Merrick Garland ― former President Barack Obama’s choice to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia ― embarked on for several months after getting the nod for the job. It was a futile exercise: His nomination died with the old Congress, without a hearing or an up-or-down vote.
How Senate Democrats respond to this unprecedented blockade is something their base will watch closely. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate minority leader, seems to be listening: He suggested he’ll insist on 60 votes to confirm Gorsuch ― the number of senators needed to break a filibuster, which Democrats may very well attempt once the nominee’s name comes to the Senate floor.
Many years ago, when he was still in private practice, Gorsuch himself decried this spectacle.
“Responsibility for the current morass does not rest with any one party or group; ample blame can be doled out all around. But litmus tests, grudge matches and payback are not the ways forward,” he wrote in a 2002 column, years before he became a judge. “Excellence is.”
To make his point, he singled out two judges who at the time had been subject to partisan delays: Garland and John Roberts, who in time would become colleagues on the federal appeals court in Washington. Both of them, Gorsuch wrote, were “grossly mistreated” by senators from both parties, despite being amply qualified.
Fast forward 14 years, and Gorsuch seems to have recognized that Garland was grossly mistreated again: As soon as he learned Trump picked him for the Scalia vacancy, he reportedly gave Garland a call “out of respect.”
That speaks well of Gorsuch, who, by all accounts, is a highly regarded judge with the credentials to prove it, much like Garland is.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell (R-Ky.) has already vowed, matter-of-factly, that Republicans will “get the judge confirmed.” But the ball really rests with Senate Democrats, who, as the minority, have a tough choice to make: Be respectful of the process, give the judge a fair hearing, and save the fire ― and the filibuster ― for when one of the more liberal justices retires or vacates their seat.
After all, Republicans played dirty with Garland. They might think it’s only fair to do the same with Gorsuch. Gross mistreatment all around.