Neil Gorsuch has been confirmed to the Supreme Court in a final Senate vote today, replacing Justice Antonin Scalia nearly 14 months after Scalia’s death. This comes after senators voted along party lines Thursday for a historic rule change that allows Supreme Court justices to be confirmed by a simple majority. We are joined by Ian Millhiser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, editor of ThinkProgress Justice and author of Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.
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AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Capitol Hill, where senators voted along party lines Thursday for a historic rule change that will allow Supreme Court justices to be confirmed by a simple majority. The 52-to-48 vote ended a Democratic-led filibuster aimed at blocking Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, clearing the way for a Senate vote today on President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the move was necessary to break a stalemate.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: Judge Gorsuch is independent, and he’s fair. He’s beyond qualified, and he will make a stellar addition to the Supreme Court. Hardly anyone in the legal community seems to argue otherwise. And yet, our Democratic colleagues appear poised to block this incredible nominee with the first successful partisan filibuster in American history. It would be a radical move, something completely unprecedented in the history of our Senate.
AMY GOODMAN: McConnell’s comments came more than a year after he led his Senate colleagues on a campaign to refuse to even consider President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. Democrats quickly condemned the move by Republicans to end the filibuster in the Supreme Court confirmations, the so-called nuclear option. This is Senate Minority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: The nuclear option means the end of a long history of consensus on Supreme Court nominations. It weakens the standing of the Senate as a whole, as a check on the president’s ability to shape the judiciary. In a post-nuclear world, if the Senate and the presidency are in the hands of the same party, there’s no incentive to even speak to the Senate minority. That’s a recipe for more conflict and bad blood between the parties, not less.
AMY GOODMAN: Neil Gorsuch is expected to be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice in a final Senate vote today, replacing Justice Antonin Scalia nearly 14 months after Scalia’s death.
For more, we go to Washington, DC, where we’re joined by Ian Millhiser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, editor of ThinkProgress Justice and the author of the book Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.
Well, to say the least, Ian, there’s not a lot of attention outside of Washington —
IAN MILLHISER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — right now being paid to what’s happening in Washington, some concerned about a nuclear option, or a war in Syria that could lead to that, but not the nuclear option in Washington, DC. At least it’s not getting that kind of attention. Explain what’s just happened.
IAN MILLHISER: Yeah, I mean, so what happened is that the Senate rules were changed to allow this very, very conservative judge to get through on a simple majority vote. And it’s very sad. I mean, I’m not necessarily going to cry over the demise of the filibuster, but it’s very, very sad that this man is going to be on the court. Neil Gorsuch is someone who’s likely to be very hostile to voting rights, very hostile to women’s rights, very hostile to LGBT rights on the court.
You know, to give you just one example of the sort of decisions he’s handed down, in the middle of his hearing, he had, as a lower court judge, written a decision that severely hobbled a law protecting disabled children. And the Supreme Court unanimously overruled him — in the middle of his hearing. So this is a guy who’s going to be very, very far to the right. I think that he takes, frankly, a very cruel approach to the law in many cases. And now he’s going to be the key fifth vote on a lot of issues.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Ian Millhiser, talk about the significance of the 60, versus 50, vote, how unusual this is.
IAN MILLHISER: Yeah. Well, I think what’s unusual here is that typically presidents don’t appoint someone who is this far either to the right or to the left. I mean, typically, presidents have picked someone who are likely to form most of a consensus. I mean, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, both of President Obama’s nominees, are liberals, but they’re not — you know, they’re not extremists. And, I mean, even John Roberts — John Roberts isn’t someone that I would like to see on the Supreme Court, but Chief Justice Roberts, President Bush’s first nominee, has shown some ability to moderate himself.
I don’t think we’re going to see that out of Gorsuch. I think that when you look at his record, he could potentially be as far to the right as Justice Thomas, who’s said that federal child labor laws are unconstitutional. So, I think what has happened here is that this president decided to push the envelope as far as he could. You know, there’s people he could have named who would have gotten 60 votes. He just decided he would rather have this much more conservative guy. And now here we are with the rules change because of it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, when will he be seated? On what decisions, if he is voted in today, will he be a part of? For example, the Muslim ban?
IAN MILLHISER: Right. I mean, the Muslim ban could potentially be the first major action he takes as a Supreme Court justice. I mean, that case, I believe, is pending before the Ninth Circuit, which is one step below the Supreme Court. Assuming that the Ninth Circuit upholds, or, rather, leaves the decision in place halting the ban, then the Trump administration is likely to go straight to the Supreme Court seeking an emergency stay. And I think Gorsuch, based on his record, at least, is likely to be a vote to grant that stay.
We’ve got a ton of big cases coming up. We’ve got a major — we’ve got several major voter suppression cases, including potentially North Carolina’s omnibus voter suppression law. We’ve got a big challenge to partisan gerrymandering, where he’s likely to be a vote in favor of gerrymandering. We just had a case out of the Seventh Circuit saying that it is illegal to fire someone because they are gay. Gorsuch is likely to be — is likely to be a vote saying, “Oh, no, no, it’s perfectly legal to fire someone for that reason.”
AMY GOODMAN: Ian, I want to thank you for being with us, ask you to stay so we can do a short post-show interview. We’ll put it at democracynow.org. Ian Millhiser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, editor of ThinkProgress Justice.
That does it for our show. Happy birthday to Matt Ealy! I’ll be speaking tonight in Denver at Su Teatro Performing Arts Center. Then, Saturday, I’ll be speaking in Castlegar, British Columbia, in Canada. You can check our website for details — that’s at Selkirk College in British Columbia — at democracynow.org.