Democrats officially able to filibuster Trump's Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats on Monday amassed enough support to block a U.S. Senate confirmation vote on President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, but Republicans vowed to change the Senate rules to ensure the conservative judge gets the lifetime job.

As the Judiciary Committee moved toward sending Gorsuch's nomination to the full Senate, Senator Christopher Coons became the 41st Democrat to announce support for a procedural hurdle requiring a super-majority of 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to allow a confirmation vote.

But Republican Senate leaders insist Gorsuch will be confirmed on the Senate floor on Friday regardless of what the Democrats do, even if they have to change long-standing Senate rules.

RELATED: Where SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch stands on key issues

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Where SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch stands on key issues

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch looks on as Senate Judiciary Committee. President Donald Trump has nominated Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court to fill the seat that had left vacant with the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Abortion

Gorsuch has never directly ruled on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S., but he was pressed on the landmark ruling during his Senate confirmation hearing. 

When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Gorsuch what he would have done if President Trump asked him to overturn Roe v. Wade, the judge responded, "I would have walked out the door. It's not what judges do. I don't do it at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue and they shouldn't do it at this end either, respectfully."

Some refer to passages from a book Gorsuch wrote on assisted suicide. In the book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, Gorsuch wrote, "The idea that all human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong."

(Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Second Amendment

Gorsuch has never directly ruled on the Second Amendment. However, during his confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) questioned Gorsuch on District of Columbia v. Heller -- a landmark ruling that overturned a ban on handguns and certain requirements when storing guns in Washington D.C. 

Gorsuch offered limited responses to Feinstein's questioning, but did conclude that Heller was the "law of the land." 

(REUTERS/John Sommers II/File Photo)

Religion

Gorsuch is widely regarded as a strong proponent of religious liberty.

In a landmark ruling, Gorsuch sided with an employer in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case in 2013, making it legal for a non-profit organization to deny employees access to contraceptives if it goes against their religious beliefs. The case ultimately reached the Supreme Court, where it was also ruled in the favor of Hobby Lobby. 

In another case, Gorsuch ruled in favor of a Wyoming inmate. The ruling allowed the inmate to use a prison yard sweat lodge, that he had previously been denied access to, for Native American religious worship.

(Getty)

Immigration

Gorsuch has not hinted to how he feels about President Trump's proposed travel ban, and many experts are split on how the SCOTUS nominee would vote on the executive order that bans immigrants from six majority-Muslim countries. The ban is currently suspended following rulings by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland. 

Gorsuch has sided with immigrants in past cases, and as Cornell University constitutional law professor Michael Dorf noted to the Denver Post -- "Gorsuch’s sympathy for people in religious cases, a general skepticism of executive power and a history of ruling for immigrants give some reason to think he could be sympathetic to plaintiffs challenging a ban on people from certain countries."

(REUTERS/Eric Thayer)

Environment

In the 2015 case Energy and Environment Legal Institute vs. Epel, Gorsuch sided with a Colorado law that requires 20 percentage of electricity sold in the state to be from renewable sources. The case was filed by an out-of-state coal company, claiming the law was a threat to interstate commerce. 

(REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

LGBTQ rights

When pressed about gay rights and strict interpretations of the law by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.) during his confirmation hearing, Gorsuch responded that "no one is looking to return us to horse and buggy days."

"We’re trying to interpret the law faithfully, taking principles that are enduring and a Constitution that was meant to last ages and apply it and interpret it to today’s problems." 

Gorsuch also told the Senate Judiciary Committee, "A good judge starts with precedent and doesn’t reinvent the wheel. So to the extent, there are decisions on these topics — and there are — a good judge respects precedent."

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Marijuana

While Gorsuch does hail from Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, it is still unclear where he stands on the issue.

In 2015, Gorsuch ruled against a dispensary, forcing the company to pay taxes on items they wrote off as business expenses in an effort to avoid incriminating themselves due to a federal law banning marijuana. 

(Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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Coons told fellow members of the Judiciary Committee it would be "tragic" if Republicans change Senate rules to end the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. "The principles that have defined the Senate are crumbling, and we are poised to hasten that this week," Coons said.

Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein, the committee's top Democrat, and Mark Warner, not a member of the panel, also announced opposition to Gorsuch on Monday and support for a filibuster.

The panel began its meeting and was set to vote later on Monday after its members spoke on Gorsuch's nomination. Republicans hold a 11-9 majority on the committee, which held a four-day confirmation hearing last month, and control the Senate by a 52-48 margin.

If the Democrats mount a successful filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be expected to force a confirmation vote by having the Senate change its rules and allow for a simple majority vote for confirmation of Supreme Court justices, a move sometimes called the "nuclear option" that Trump has urged.

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Senate confirmation of Gorsuch, 49, would restore the nine-seat high court's conservative majority, fulfilling one of Trump's top campaign promises. Trump in January nominated Gorsuch, a conservative appeals court judge from Colorado, to the lifetime job as a justice.

Gorsuch was nominated to fill a vacancy created by the February 2016 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

The actual confirmation vote would be by a simple majority if the filibuster is stopped. To date, three Democrats have come out in support of Gorsuch, and the Republicans would have needed to secure eight Democratic votes to kill a filibuster.

Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, who represents Gorsuch's home state of Colorado and introduced the nominee during his confirmation hearing, said he would oppose the filibuster effort but did not take a position on whether to vote in favor of the judge.

RELATED: Democrats who will vote no on Neil Gorsuch's confirmation

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Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (New York)

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Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont)

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Sen. Bob Casey (Pennsylvania)

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Sen. Ron Wyden (Oregon)

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 Sen. Patty Murray (Washington)

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) 

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Sen. Jeff Merkley (Oregon) 

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Sen. Tom Carper (Delaware)

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Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin)

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Sen. Bill Nelson (Florida)

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Sen. Cory Booker (New Jersey)

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Sen. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii)

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Sen. Tom Udall (New Mexico) 

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Sen. Jack Reed (Rhode Island)

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Sen. Chris Murphy (Connecticut) 

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island) 

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Tim Kaine, 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, speaks during an event conducted entirely in Spanish, a first for an organized presidential campaign event, in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. Five days from the U.S. presidential election, polls released Thursday showed the race narrowing, with Democrat Hillary Clinton holding on to a slim lead over Republican Donald Trump. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Tim Kaine (Virginia)

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Sen. Al Franken (Minnesota)

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Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Michigan) 

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Sen. Ed Markey (Massachusetts)

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Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Illinois) 

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Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire) 

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Sen. Gary Peters (Michigan)

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Sen. Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire)

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota)

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Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) 

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Sen. Pat Leahy (Vermont)

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Sen. Ben Cardin (Maryland)

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Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) questions Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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The committee's chairman, Republican Chuck Grassley, defended Gorsuch as a mainstream jurist worthy of confirmation despite the complaints of many Democrats, and that "there isn't a whole lot of mystery" that the panel will approve the nomination.

Feinstein said this was not a "routine nomination," noting that the Republican-led Senate last year flatly refused to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama's nomination of appellate judge Merrick Garland to fill the same high court vacancy.

"There was simply no reason that the nomination of Judge Garland could not proceed, other than to deny the then-president of the United States, President Barack Obama, the ability to fill the seat," Feinstein said.

Feinstein criticized Gorsuch's rulings in cases involving a fired truck driver and an autistic child and faulted his actions as a lawyer in Republican former President George W. Bush's Justice Department regarding detainee interrogation techniques critics called torture.

Feinstein also said she was disturbed by the millions of dollars of "dark money" from anonymous donors backing advertising and political advocacy by conservative groups to help Gorsuch win confirmation.

'I HATE THAT'

The 60-vote super-majority requirement over the decades has forced the Senate to try to achieve bipartisanship in legislation and in presidential appointments.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican committee member, expressed regret that his party would be forced to change the Senate rules and said the "damage done to the Senate's going to be real."

"If we have to, we will change the rules, and it looks like we're going to have to. I hate that. I really, really do," Graham said.

Democrats have accused Gorsuch of being insufficiently independent of Trump, evading questions on key Supreme Court rulings of the past including on abortion and political spending, and favoring corporate interests over ordinary Americans.

Committee Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said Gorsuch was "excruciatingly evasive" during his confirmation hearing. He called Gorsuch's approach to responding to the committee "patronizing. It's a disservice to the American people and a blight on the confirmation process." Leahy's office made clear he would back a filibuster.

SEE ALSO: Los Angeles Times delves into Trump's 'lies,' calls his presidency a 'train wreck'

"Over the last couple months, the nominee's opponents have tried to find fault with him. That fault will not stick," Grassley said.

"Judge Gorsuch is by any measure a superbly qualified nominee," added Senator Orrin Hatch, a committee Republican. "He will be impartial, fair and open-minded."

While Gorsuch's opponents would fight a Senate rule change, it was the Democrats who in 2013 changed the Senate rules to limit filibusters after Republicans used the procedure against appeals court nominees selected by Obama. The Senate, then led by Democrats, barred filibusters for executive branch nominees and federal judges aside from Supreme Court justices. Even if Republicans do change the rules, legislation, as opposed to appointments, would still need to meet a 60-vote threshold.

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