Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: Democrats will filibuster SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch
WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) - The top U.S. Senate Democrat on Thursday pledged to pursue a procedural hurdle to try to block the confirmation of Republican President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, a move that could provoke a nasty partisan fight.
Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the 100-member Senate. But Senate rules enable Democrats to insist on 60 votes to clear a procedural move known as a filibuster to allow a final up-or-down vote on confirming Gorsuch to the lifetime job on the nation's highest court.
Inside the hearing for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch
Trump has called on Senate Republicans to change the rules to allow a simple majority vote on confirmation if Democrats resort to a filibuster. If confirmed, the federal appeals court judge from Colorado would restore a conservative majority on the nine-seat high court, fulfilling one of Trump's top campaign promises.
As the Judiciary Committee opened its fourth and final day of its Gorsuch confirmation hearing, the spotlight turned to whether he will gain the support of vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018. The support of eight Democrats would short-circuit a filibuster.
"After careful deliberation, I have concluded that I cannot support Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court," Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor, a day after Gorsuch finished marathon Judiciary Committee testimony.
"He will have to earn 60 votes for confirmation. My vote will be 'no,' and I urge my colleagues to do the same," added Schumer, who has accused Gorsuch of favoring corporate interests over ordinary Americans in his legal opinions.
Conservative activists have said they have identified 10 possible "yes" votes for Gorsuch among Democrats seeking re-election next year in states Trump won in the 2016 election.
Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat up for re-election in 2018 in one of those states, Pennsylvania, announced on Thursday he would vote against Gorsuch and support a filibuster.
"I don't believe that Judge Gorsuch, his judicial approach, would ensure fairness for workers and families in Pennsylvania," Casey said, expressing "serious concerns about Judge Gorsuch's rigid and restrictive judicial philosophy."
Casey said he was unaware of any discussions among Democrats about a deal to advance Gorsuch's nomination in return for a guarantee from Republicans that the next Supreme Court nomination would need 60 votes to proceed to a Senate confirmation vote.
Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin, up for re-election in Wisconsin next year, also opposes the nomination, a spokesman said. West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Florida's Bill Nelson, Democrats facing voters next year, remain undecided on Gorsuch, their spokesmen told Reuters.
Several Judiciary Committee Democrats, including its top Democrat Dianne Feinstein, told Reuters late on Wednesday they would not comment on whether they would support a filibuster.
UP FOR GRABS
Another vote potentially up for grabs is that of Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Gorsuch's home state of Colorado. He is not up for re-election next year and his state voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. He introduced Gorsuch to the Judiciary Committee on Monday, but did not commit to supporting the nomination, promising an "open mind."
Schumer noted that Supreme Court nominees picked by the last two presidents, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama, all received at least 60 votes. If Gorsuch does not get the same support, "the answer isn't to change the rules. It's to change the nominee," Schumer added.
In three days of Judiciary Committee testimony, Gorsuch remained calm under sharp questioning from Democrats, paving the way for the panel to vote on the nomination on April 3.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants the full Senate to confirm Gorsuch before senators begin a recess on April 7.
On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee heard from witnesses both in support and opposition to Gorsuch. The first witnesses were from the American Bar Association, the lawyers group that evaluates high court nominees and gave Gorsuch its highest rating of "well qualified."
Feinstein noted that Merrick Garland, Obama's Supreme Court nominee who the Republican-led Senate last year refused to consider for confirmation, also earned the ABA's highest rating and glowing evaluations.
ABA representative Nancy Scott Degan testified Gorsuch was a mainstream and reasonable judge. Some Democrats have questioned whether Gorsuch so conservative that is not within the judicial mainstream.
(Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham, Julia Edwards Ainsley, Dustin Volz and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Will Dunham)