The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on a party line vote to refer Judge Gorsuch to the full Senate. Most whip counts show 41 Senators who intend to vote no on cloture. We’re probably going nuclear. So perhaps its time for listener mail? Also, three principled reasons to oppose Judge Gorsuch as Associate Justice.
The Judiciary Committee votes
Yadda yadda yadda, Gorsuch got reported out of committee on party lines
The votes for cloture aren’t there
But are there non-nuclear options?
Can the Senate’s “2 speech rule” can be used to limit debate without going nuclear?
Adam pulls out a mic to drop on The Federalist
There are reasons why the 2 speech rule hasn’t been used to cut off debate before (and note to The Federalist, the Civil RIghts Act of 1964 passed because the Senate invoked cloture, not because of the Two-Speech Rule–I think the author knows that and uses the weasel words that the 2-speech rule was a “key component” to passing the act rather than saying it was what ended the filibuster. Here’s a description of the filibuster vote:
First, let’s say that 10 Dems burn their first speech before realizing this is the Dem strategy. Well, given that there have to be at least 41 senators to sustain a filibuster, that still leaves 31 senators with 2 speeches and 10 more with one speech, meaning there are 72 speeches left to go before the Senate can confirm anyone, and those 72 speeches will then take a long time. And the Senate cannot move onto other business while the filibuster is pending (absent unanimous consent). Also, Democrats have the ability to force Republicans to come to the Senate floor in the middle of the night to vote on motions to adjourn (which can be decided by less than a quorum and, if they happened to be successful, restart the 2-speech rule because a new legislative day starts).
Second, all the Senate needs to do to get around the 2-speech rule is start a round of debate on a new issue. Therefore, Republicans would have to be extremely vigilant and immediately table motions to postpone indefinitely,To postpone to a day certain, or to commit, each of which can be propounded while another question is pending and each of which would create a new subject if debate started on the motion and therefore would allow senators who had already spoken twice on Gorsuch to speak again. They would also have to make sure they didn’t accidentally start a new debate topic by, for instance, beginning a debate on whether a senator’s remarks violated the rules of decorum, as they did with Sen. Warren, because once again, this would be a new topic of debate.
All that is to say that I once read through the Senate rules, hit on Rule XIX and said, “hey, maybe there is another way to stop a filibuster.” But then I realized that I wasn’t the first young D.C. activist to read the Senate rules, so maybe it was a bit more complicated. Since then, I’ve both studied the two-speech rule and asked people who worked in the Senate about it. Which leads me to my answer: That’s not the way anyone will cut off the Gorsuch debate.
We got mail
A thoughtful email from a conservative (!) listener prompts our response.
Hello, to begin with I want to thank you for this very informative podcast. Everyone of the “gang” seems to have good knowledge of the issues relevant to the Supreme Court and history of the Court. I enjoy the chats and I always learn something from each episode.
Being a conservative, for the most part I’m not bothered by the clear and strong liberal leaning of the panel. I often agree with your criticism against the Republican party and even when I disagree I understand where you’re coming from.
I do want to mention a couple of things that I think the panel missed because of their liberal leaning. These are my opinions.
1) It is not reasonable to filibuster Gorsuch on merit grounds. Given the support he has received from his fellow judges and lawyers, it’s not reasonable to doubt his merit or mainstream status. If he is not mainstream, the word has lost its meaning. (I understand the desire to filibuster to make a political statement.)
Tim: Not sure we agree on the meaning of mainstream in this context. I would propose Gorsuch is part of judicial movement conservatism that is not mainstream, which can be reasonably disagreed with and therefore he may be reasonably opposed. We throw around terms like “mainstream” and “qualified” and often don’t define these words the same way. I think the three of us agree it’s perfectly reasonable to support or oppose a nominee based on their judicial philosophy, even if they have impeccable education and professional credentials. You can be a likeable person, raise a good family, have loads of lawyers say nice things about you and may still be reasonably opposed on the merits of your judicial philosophy. And that goes for everyone, not just Judge Gorsuch.
Lena: Agree on not agreeing with the meaning of mainstream. And that’s probably the rub. Maybe he’d be mainstream a long time ago but a man who can’t say Griswold is rightly decided and somehow says he can’t imagine a state limiting access to contraception (even though he did wish to limit access to contraception or at least allow corporate employers to do so) doesn’t fit my definition of mainstream.
Admittingly, I don’t expect someone I would embrace fully on the bench. But someone I can respect because of how they get there is a really terrific start. I can’t get there with Gorsuch.
Adam: You can’t judge by a nominee’s supporters. There is a whole game out there of people trying to get better positions in DC some day (or just being part of the old boy’s network). E.g., Estrada’s support of Kagan.
2) Similarly, it is utterly un-reasonable if Republicans voted down Garland in an up-or-down vote. I think Lena mentioned that she would be okay with it. I think she was not being totally honest. Garland absolutely should have been confirmed in an up-or-down vote.
Tim: Lena is very honest, but thanks. Had Senate Republicans taken the political “risk” of opposing Garland because of a disagreement over judicial philosophy, that would have been preferable to what happened. However, Republicans calculated they could avoid this political by declaring SCOTUS nominating season over with no basis in law or fact. I believe the technical term for this is “bullshit.” (Sounds like we agree on that). Had the GOP Senate followed norms and voted Garland down, I’m sure we wouldn’t have agreed with the outcome, but we would have been much more “ok” with things compared to what went down. Which was, again, bullshit.
Lena: Yup. Pretty much really telling the truth there. Sure, I would’ve hollered about how horrible he was treated if voted down, but would rather he be voted down and we get ourselves a new nominee (something totally possible when the Rs have the majority, BTW) so we can at some point get to this.
I’m particular bent out of shape because I keep hearing that Ds have and/or would’ve done this and have advocated for it too. But I just don’t see that 1) that’s the case (Kennedy in 1988, an election year; Bork getting a hearing and a vote) or 2) it’s true. I think the minimization of “this is just politics” is really harmful.
3) It is often said that Garland is the most qualified supreme court nominee ever. What I find interesting is that if that’s the case, why didn’t Obama appoint him for the (not one, but) two vacancies he filled earlier? Do you really think Kagan is more qualified than Garland? I suspect it’s your liberal leaning that prevents you from discussing this.
Tim: I think I respectfully reject the premise of the comment. An observation in response: Conservatives seem to have fealty to identifying “the” (meaning singular) “best” person who should always get the nod for anything. Life – and by extension SCOTUS noms – is so much more a shades of gray thing. There are a limited number of people who are qualified to serve, but it’s a pool, not an ordinated list. A timely analogy is it’s more like the NCAA tournament. Does the #1 seed of the tournament always end up #1? Ask Villanova… they’d say, no! But Gonzaga and Carolina certainly qualified to get in and one will be crowned national champion tonight despite not being “the” #1 team. Likewise, one person’s “best” candidate may not get the nod, but someone who is qualified does. Politics, timing, etc. all weigh in. So if someone says Garland was somehow more qualified than Kagan or Sotomayor, (a) that is far from a universal opinion, and (b) who cares so long as the three of them were qualified? It’s the President’s role to suss out the pool and choose a name. The Senate takes it from there.
Adam: My real answer: The context is that we’re living in a time where, absent a desire to compromise, it makes no sense for either liberals or conservatives to appoint older people who stand a greater chance of being replaced by a POTUS with the other philosophy, so age has to be a factor in qualification. Garland is 8 years older, and therefore not as qualified on that measure.
Gotcha answer: Kagan was nominated to the DC Circuit by Clinton. If Rs hadn’t refused to give her even a hearing (sound familiar), she’d have been pretty qualified. Being blocked by Rs, she did pretty well for qualifications: Harvard Law dean and SG. If Obama was to pass her over for not being a judge, it would mean eliminating a very qualified person because of GOP malfeasance, which seems wrong.
Complicated answer: Picking people on qualifications alone isn’t the best idea. Look at Taft: prosecutor, private practice, territorial governor, SG, AG, state trial court judge, federal appellate judge, president of the United States, for heaven’s sake. Beats Garland by quite a bit. But few list him as a great justice. Beyond a certain point, qualifications alone don’t really make for a better justice
Lena: I think there are other aspects and qualities beyond sterling credentials. Questions a PResident must ask himself or herself or whichever organizations they outsource it to. What would the Court benefit from? This is when things like age, ideology, professional and demographic diversity is important. And I can absolutely see how and why President Obama may not have prioritized a moderate white man at that point in his presidency.
There are many reasons someone gets the nod as Tim says. Kagan very well qualified. May not have served on the bench (for reasons Adam noted), but that can be an asset. As can having someone who was in the legislature. Also, a-okay if we go with a nominee who didn’t go to an Ivy League school.
I think Garland got the nod last year because Rs supported him and he wanted to show he was coming to the table with a nominee they could accept; someone who could get 60 votes. But they wouldn’t entertain this.
Tim: This was a really thoughtful email and we appreciate it… I think my favorite aspect was when the writer said we’ve been able to convey where we’re coming from even when he disagrees with the point. That’s kind of the north star for this show, so thanks for listening.
Three principled reasons to oppose Judge Gorsuch as Associate Justice
No ordinary conservative
Gorsuch is a judicial “movement” conservative that has been an active force in political and legal shifts away from settled areas of law. The aim of Gorsuch and fellow members of The Federalist Society is no less than a complete dismantling of norms and laws that produced important holdings for the last 50+ years (sometimes more). Make no mistake: his nomination isn’t intended as a replacement of Scalia, it’s an enhancement.
Paradoxically, we don’t know enough about his aims and intentions either. The modern stance of nominees before the committee and the American public is to clam up on any topic likely to elucidate even a glimmer of an idea of their stance on important topics of the day. This opacity isn’t limited to Republican nominees… it was a feature of nominees by Presidents Clinton and Obama as well.
It’s almost a cliche by now that this seat was “stolen” by Republican members of the US Senate. While we’ve noted before on the pod that the intentional withholding of the Senate advice and consent process of Merrick Garland by Republican leaders was not per se unconstitutional, it certainly violated the norms of the US Senate, and — perhaps more importantly — the will of each and every Obama voter in the 2012 election. Observers may laud the demonstrations following the election of President Trump, but they should also cast a disdainful look at the failure to do so during a shameful quiet period in the spring of 2016.
President under fire
The questions surrounding the link between confirmed Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election and the campaign itself undermines the legitimacy of the sitting President. Although there is no evidence that the election results themselves are questionable, the possibility that a member of the President’s campaign — or even the President himself — aided in the interference of our election process undermines the moral authority for this President to make any appointments that could outlive his term of office until those questions are investigated and answered by an independent authority.
A little nuance to #1: the lack of answers which I think made Judge Gorsuch hard to take seriously and trust. (e.g., QFRs) And the “Ginsburg rule” is not a thing.
This is a lifetime appointment. This is really serious.
This is precisely what McConnell wanted. And I think he wanted it because he cares about his party (and corporate influence that the Court unleashed in Citizens United) and does so at all costs. To date, he seems to evade any backlash and isn’t held accountable.
Tim: Congratulations Mitch McConnell. Your legacy is just about cemented. You’ll get drinks bought for you in the back room of cigar smoke-filled clubs, with slaps on the back and knowing smiles from old dudes for for the rest of your life. You win. Oh… but maybe not. Because a lot of people really know what went down beyond the likely confirmation of someone who shouldn’t be there this round. Yes, this was a game of political brinksmanship that you won, but the long game and the judgement of history counts for something. I hope you don’t think your legacy is a reflection of those drinks and backslaps. It’s far different, and far more embarrassing for its political crassness in the face of institutions far, far greater