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Professor: Democrats picked wrong Supreme Court battle

POSTED: April 6, 2017 7:40 p.m.
SUSAN WALSH/Associated Press

In this March 21, 2017, file photo, Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch explains mutton busting, an event held at rodeos similar to bull riding or bronc riding, in which children ride or race sheep, as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Charles Bullock suggested Democrats in the U.S. Senate made a mistake Thursday in seeking to block a vote on Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court.

In response, Republicans changed the rules to require only 51 votes, rather than 60, to bring a Supreme Court nominee to a vote, paving the way for Gorsuch to likely be approved by Friday and take his seat on the high court soon.

With Gorsuch being nominated earlier this year for the seat held by Antonin Scalia at the time of Scalia’s death in February 2016, Bullock said this nomination wasn’t going to change the ideological makeup of the court.

“This was the wrong place for the Democrats to fight the battle,” said the political science professor at the University of Georgia.

He said the moment of one of the liberal justices retiring from the court would have been a better time to fight a Trump nomination.

Bullock said this was the latest damage Democrats suffered from eliminating filibusters on all nominees except Supreme Court picks. Political observers say that decision in 2013 opened the door for Republicans’ maneuver Thursday, and it also helped Trump’s Cabinet picks — even controversial Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — be confirmed without much of a fight.

Matt Smith, the new chairman for the Hall County GOP, called it “a shame” that the nomination ended up coming down to a rule change to get a vote on Gorsuch.

“It’s something that needed to be done,” Smith said. “Gorsuch is a good pick.”

Democrats denounced the GOP’s use of what both sides dubbed the “nuclear option” to put Gorsuch on the court, calling it an epic power grab that would further corrode politics in Congress, the courts and the nation. Many Republicans bemoaned reaching that point, too, but they blamed Democrats for pushing them to it.

“We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court,” declared Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

“This is going to be a chapter, a monumental event in the history of the Senate, not for the better but for the worse,” warned Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior Republican.

Smith said Gorsuch is “highly qualified” to be on the Supreme Court. He said Democratic efforts to thwart the nomination underscore how automatic partisan opposition is to high court nominees on both sides of the aisle.

“It doesn’t really matter at this point who it is,” Smith said.

Douglas Young, political science professor at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, said Thursday’s moves by both sides underscored the political divisions in the country and the high stakes of the Supreme Court.

“I cannot think of a significant public policy issue in America that is not ultimately decided by the Supreme Court,” Young said. “I don’t think it should surprise anybody that Republican and Democratic senators realize that and will do everything they can to mold the court to their perspective.”

At age 49, Gorsuch is the youngest Supreme Court nominee since Clarence Thomas, a current justice, was nominated at age 43 in 1991. Young said the presence of Anthony Kennedy on the court, 29 years after he was confirmed as a nominee from President Ronald Reagan, underscores how long Supreme Court justices can affect American policy, often for 30 years or more.

And while Republicans drew criticism in 2016 for not giving a hearing to Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, appointed by President Barack Obama, Young said “Democrats would have done the same thing if the shoe was on the other foot” in a presidential election year.

Angela Middleton, first vice chairwoman for the Hall County Democratic Party, called it “a sad day in our government.”

“I don’t understand why they would do this to support a president’s nominee, a president who is under investigation at this time” for collusion with Russia, Middleton said.

She added that Garland should have been voted on before Gorsuch was submitted as a nominee.

Bullock said it’s easy for one party to forget how moves such as Thursday’s can later help the other party. He also said lowering the vote threshold to get a vote on a nominee could embolden both Republican and Democratic presidents to choose more ideologically extreme nominees going forward.

Both of Georgia’s Republican U.S. senators criticized Democratic opposition to Gorsuch.

“Judge Gorsuch is a principled jurist who is steadfast in his commitment to defending the Constitution. Democrats have agreed, and they confirmed Judge Gorsuch without objection in 2006,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., in a news release. “That’s why it is ridiculous Democrats today put self-interest and party-interest ahead of the nation’s interest. Republicans this year have said all along we’ll do what it takes to get Judge Gorsuch the up-or-down vote he deserves, and next week he will be an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court.”

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., echoed that sentiment.

“Judge Gorsuch is an exceptional nominee with the right judicial temperament and a strong reliance on the text of our Constitution and laws,” Isakson said in a news release. “I am extremely disappointed by the blind obstruction carried out by Senate Democrats today. The Senate and our country are headed in a dangerous direction if this type of partisan behavior continues.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.



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