April 3, 2017 at 6:06 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
With Dem filibuster assured, Gorsuch nomination heads to Senate floor
Neil Gorsuch, gay news, Washington Blade

Democrats stand ready to filibuster the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Monday the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, although the nomination has hit a significant snag now that Democrats have secured the votes necessary to successfully filibuster his confirmation.

Before the committee approved the Gorsuch nomination on a party-line vote, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) announced during the session he would oppose the nominee and support the Democratic filibuster against him. That made him the 41st vote needed for a successful filibuster.

“I am not ready to end debate on this issue, so I will be voting against cloture, unless we are able as a body to finally sit down and find a way to avoid the nuclear option and ensure the process to fill the next vacancy on the court is not a narrowly partisan process,” Coons said.

Other top Democrats announcing they would join Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)’s filibuster were Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), top Democrat on the committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-N.Y.), who until recently was ranking Democrat.

Feinstein cited during the hearing Republican obstruction of former President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court as well as various decisions Gorsuch reached as a Justice Department official during the Bush administration and a judge on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Our job is to assess whether the nominee will protect the legal and constitutional rights of all Americans, and whether the nominee recognizes the humanity and justice required when evaluating the cases before him,” Feinstein said. “Unfortunately, based on Judge Gorsuch’s record at the Department of Justice, his tenure on the bench, his appearance before the Senate and his written questions for the record, I cannot support this nomination.”

Also cited by Feinstein as a concern is the more than $10 million the Koch brothers have declared they intend to spend to support the Gorsuch confirmation as well as ads buys from the National Rifle Association and the Judicial Crisis Network.

With a filibuster of the Gorsuch nomination likely to succeed when the cloture vote for the nominee is held on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is likely to invoke the “nuclear option,” which would eliminate the long-standing ability to filibuster nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

McConnell strongly suggested during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” he would invoke the “nuclear option” when he declared Gorsuch would be confirmed this week with or without help from Democrats.

“What I can tell you is that Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week,” McConnell said. “How that happens really depends on our Democratic friends, how many of them are willing to oppose cloture on a partisan basis to kill a Supreme Court nominee, never happened before in history, the whole history of the country.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday President Trump would support invoking the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster, but ultimately the decision rests with McConnell.

“There’s literally going to be the first filibuster in modern times on a qualified judge that’s going to end up going on the court,” Spicer said. “We have really come a long way, and I think Democrats are setting a very dangerous precedent when it comes to how they want to do this because this isn’t about voting against somebody or having an issue with them, it is literally trying to stop using the filibuster for something it was never really intended for, nor has it been the principle that we would vote down someone who is qualified.”

LGBT rights supporters have universally opposed the confirmation of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, citing as a chief concern his decision on the 11th Circuit in favor of Hobby Lobby being allowed to deny contraception coverage for employees under Obamacare on the basis of “religious freedom” for the corporation. That reasoning, observers say, could lead to religious exemptions for LGBT non-discrimination laws should they be adjudicated by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, on Twitter declared support for the Democrats’ filibuster of the Gorsuch nomination based on the nominee’s rulings he says could spell trouble for LGBT people.

During his confirmation hearing, Gorsuch said he believes marriage equality is “settled law,” but also cited “ongoing litigation about its impact and application right now.”

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Lambda Legal, said Gorsuch’s words hedging the finality of the marriage issue is “a dog-whistle to the religious extremists who funded his nomination.”

“He wouldn’t answer whether he thinks cases concerning marriage equality, abortion, school desegregation, or the right to an attorney were correctly decided and final,” Tiven said. “He disdains the regulations that govern clean air, clean water and safe food. His snide treatment of everyone from the trucker freezing to death by the side of the road to plaintiffs like ours, who count on the courts to see their humanity and fundamental equality, is startling. In short, this is not a person fit to rule on the lives of 315 million Americans.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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