02.01.17

Leahy's First Senate Floor Speech On The Nomination Of Neil Gorsuch To The Supreme Court

Since public hearings began in 1916, the Senate has never denied a hearing or a vote to a pending Supreme Court nominee.  That was until last year.  Last year Senate Republicans waged an unprecedented blockade against the nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, a fine judge with impeccable credentials who should be on the Supreme Court today.  Instead, bowing to the extreme right of their party, Republicans who knew and respected Chief Judge Garland refused even to meet with him, let alone accord him the respect of a confirmation hearing. 

So this is exactly what happened:  Republicans held hostage a vacancy on the Supreme Court so that their candidate for president could choose a nominee.  The blockade of the Merrick Garland nomination was shameful, and corrosive for our system of government.  Candidate Donald Trump, who verbally attacked a sitting Federal judge in what Speaker Ryan called “a textbook example of a racist comment,” encouraged Senate Republicans to “delay, delay, delay.”  Candidate Trump then outsourced the vetting of potential nominees to far right organizations that want to stack the judiciary with ideological conservatives who are outside the mainstream.  And he promised a nominee who would overturn 40 years of jurisprudence established in Roe v. Wade.  With his selection of Judge Gorsuch, it appears he is making good on that promise.

When we confirmed Judge Gorsuch for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, I knew he was conservative, but I had hoped he would not impose his personal beliefs from the bench.  At his confirmation hearing in 2006, Judge Gorsuch stated, “Precedent is to be respected and honored.”  He said it is “unacceptable” for a judge to try to impose “his own personal views, his politics, [or] his personal preferences.”  Yet last year he tried to do just that, calling for important precedent to be overturned because it does not align with his personal philosophy.  From my initial review of his record, I question whether Judge Gorsuch meets the high standard set by Merrick Garland, whose decisions were squarely within the mainstream.  And with the ideological litmus test that President Trump has applied in making this selection, the American people are justified to wonder whether Judge Gorsuch can truly be an independent justice.  I intend to ask Judge Gorsuch about these and other important issues in the coming months. 

Republicans rolled the dice last year, subjecting the Supreme Court and the American people to their purely political gamble.  President Trump likes to boast that he won the election in a massive landslide.  He did not.  Secretary Clinton received more than 2.8 million votes from the American people than President Trump.  More importantly, due to Senate Republicans’ political gambit, the Supreme Court clearly lost in this election. This is no way to treat a co-equal branch of government, or to protect the independence of our Federal judiciary.

The President’s Electoral College victory – far narrower than either of President Obama’s victories – is hardly a mandate for any Supreme Court nominee who would turn back the clock on the rights of women, LGBT Americans, or minorities; or a nominee who would use theories last seen in the 1930s to undermine all that we have accomplished in the last 80 years.  Critical programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and key statutes including the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Clean Air Act could well be at risk.

After Republicans’ unprecedented obstruction last year, I do not want to hear Republicans now say that we must rush to confirm Judge Gorsuch.  For all their talk of Democrats setting the standard with the confirmations of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, they ignore the standard they set in the shameful treatment of Chief Judge Garland. The courts are a vital check on any administration, especially one that has found itself on the losing side of an argument in Federal court in only its first week.  Judge Gorsuch will need to show that he is willing to uphold the Constitution, even against President Trump.  Judge Gorsuch’s record includes a decade on the Federal bench.  The Judiciary Committee must now carefully review his decisions, and must conduct a thorough and unsparing examination of his nomination.  The American people deserve nothing less.

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