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Everything About This Week’s Supreme Court Battle, Explained Simply

by Countable | 4.4.17

The nation’s two political parties are both engaged in a high stakes game of chicken when it comes to filling the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, and neither side seems willing to relent which is promising to cause lasting changes in the nation’s upper chamber.

How we got here

It’s as simple as Republicans, under the tutelage of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), blocking President Barack Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy left when conservative icon Antonin Scalia unexpectedly died. The GOP’s refusal to even hold hearings or take a vote on Garland was seen by many Democrats as unprecedented. That lingering bad blood has spilled over into the fight over Neil Gorsuch.

The Filibuster

The filibuster puts a senator from a small state, think Rhode Island or Delaware, on the same legislative footing as those from large states, i.e. California and Texas, because it allows any individual senator to protest legislation or nominees who they view as dangerous for their folks back home. In recent years senators have increasingly used the legislative move to gum up the works of the majority party, which Democrats reacted to in 2013 by lowering the threshold for executive branch nominees and lower court judges from 60 to 51 votes - a simple majority in the Senate.

"The Nuclear Option"

This is Washington speak for changing the time honored Senate tradition of protecting the rights of the minority party. Currently the filibuster forces the majority party to reach across the aisle and work with their Democratic counterparts in order to meet the 60 vote threshold, because there are only 52 Republicans in the Senate. By changing the rule, critics argue it will change the tenor of the Senate.

"There’s a reason they call it the nuclear option, and that is that there’s fallout," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). told reporters at the Capitol. “And this fallout will be dangerously and perhaps disastrously radioactive for the Senate in years to come.”

This week’s time table

The full Senate is set to vote on cloture — the procedure it uses to end debate with the consent of 60 senators — for Gorsuch’s nomination on Thursday. If Democrats filibuster him by not voting to end debate, as they’re promising to do, Republicans will trigger the nuclear option. That will set up a Friday confirmation vote that only requires a simple majority to put Judge Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

What's changed in today's Senate?

"Partisanship, partisanship, partisanship, partisanship," is how Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) described the mood change in the upper chamber. Republicans are promising not to lower the threshold for voting on ordinary legislation, but critics fear the move to lower the threshold for Supreme Court nominees will further sour feelings in the Senate and will widen the gulf between the nation’s political parties

"We think the nuclear option is filibustering a Supreme Court nominee," Sen. John Thune (R-SD) – the number three Senate Republican – told a gaggle of reporters at the Capitol.

Do you think the Senate should change its filibuster rule over Neil Gorsuch’s nomination? Contact your Senators and let them know how you feel!

- Matt Laslo

(Photo Credit: C-SPAN / Public Domain)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(102)
  • Sharon
    04/04/2017
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    While this administration is under investigation for treason, any and all of their appointments and policies should be held in abeyance.

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  • Anna
    04/05/2017
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    You must filibuster, and fight the nuclear option. The 60 vote rule is designed to ensure that radical Justices aren't given life appointments, and Gorsuch would be terrible for women, for LGBT folks, for the disabled, and generally for all people (vs corporations). Also we should not allow any important decisions to be made until we get to the bottom of the Russian investigations. Hold strong, stand up for Americans. It's your job and we depend on you.

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  • 500M
    04/05/2017
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    If they change the rules to push their nominee through, it's an example of them not doing their jobs. They are supposed to work together for the betterment of the American people. The Republicans shouldn't have refused hearings when the dems had the opportunity to place a judge. That was a major failure of the Republicans to do their jobs. To work for the American people. If the fallout of that is that Gorsuch won't be seated, changing the rules to get their way, is just another step towards polarization, which does nothing for the American people. They all need to grow up, and learn how to work together. Compromise. Work FOR the American people. Be LEADERS. Stop acting like petulant children.

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  • Patti
    04/05/2017
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    No Nuclear option -- if you guys can't start working together you better start now looking for another job -- the American public is sick of your adolescent behavior!!!

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  • Sara
    04/05/2017
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    You cannot change the rules just because you don't like what the other party is doing. Further, this isn't about party line to me. Gorsuch is a *horrible* Supreme Court choice. He valued property over life. While he was being questioned the Supreme Court unanimously overturned one of his decisions regarding a child with a disability. Stop looking at this as Democrat vs. Republican. These are our lives you are playing around with if you vote yes to him!

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  • Chase
    04/05/2017
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    To be honest; the candidate for the vacant isnt exactly what the people of this country need. The fact that the previous nominee was so blatantly blocked and pushed away is despicable. The bipartisan system is actually what has created our entire problem. Stop voting for your party and start voting for the people you represent.

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  • Jill
    04/05/2017
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    Obviously the Dems made a mistake by changing the required number of votes, but the Republicans went further by not even allowing a hearing on Garland. I think there should be a law that limits how long a Supreme Court vacancy can be unfilled. Gorsuch doesn't sound like a judge who has all Americans' interests at heart. If the Republicans want to work with Democrats they need to nominate a more centrist jurist.

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  • Danielle
    04/05/2017
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    With all due respect, Mr. Toomey, I do not think Mr. Gorsuch is the forward thinking judge we need in office. There is no such thing as originalism for the Constitution because we can not pretend to interpret what these men with muskets would have done to address the automatic weapons used in the ever increasing mass shootings we face. We need bravery from men and women today who can face our problems, see our culture. We are not the men of 1776. We are the women, men, LGBTQI, intersectional, tax paying, black, brown, and voting individuals of 2017. Let's go, Pat!. Sincerely, your (hope to be) supporter, Danelle Skapura 15211. P.S. Climate change is real

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  • debmorrow51
    04/04/2017
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    What is foremost in my mind is thanking Bill Nelson for being an outstanding representative of the people of Florida. You consistently stand against the trump horror show, voting to keep the air and water clean, not to put people in charge of agencies who lie to congress and know nothing about the agencies they will run and now standing against the misogynistic and "fascism forever" candidate for the SCOTUS, Gorsuch. Thank you for your wit, wisdom, intelligence and principles. And then we have Rubio and Gaetz. Everything above? You two are the opposite. You don't care about Florida or it's people. You only care about please Das Fuhrer Drumpf. You don't care if agencies are dismantled and instead of creating jobs, he destroys tens of thousands by defunding vital agency programs. You don't care about their perjury. You don't care about. Lean air or water of the sick of the old or the young and the innocent. Kill them through lack of health care or starve them. As long as Paul the Pious and 🐢 McConnell are happy with you, you're fine. Well neither of represents me or Florida as you will find out on November 6, 2018.

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  • Marjorie
    04/05/2017
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    Vote no on Gorusch. He is not a compromise candidate as Garland was. The Republicans have refused to work with Democrats for far too long. As a now ex-Republican, I am disgusted by the Republican Party.

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  • Ray
    04/05/2017
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    It was a mistake to invoke the "nuclear option" when the democrats did it for lesser nominees just as it will be a mistake for the republicans to invoke it for Supreme Court nominees. Actually, "mistake" is a gross understatement. It is a disaster. Whatever collegiality we could expect from the senate will be lost. I expect more from my senators than partisanship. Do not change the senate rule regarding filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Our republic will pay a heavy price in the years to come if you do.

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  • Shari
    04/04/2017
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    The majority of 60 was put into place for a reason it forces discussion and negotiation. If senate votes to change the rule we can forever say goodbye to negotiation between the parties. The republicans are voting repealing all protections President Obama put into place to help the working class and poor. The republicans have awakened these classes to their real mission- make the rich richer and the heck with everyone else. Your day is coming. Don't think the people you are screwing with will vote for you in upcoming elections.

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  • Anne
    04/05/2017
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    No vote until the Russian investigation is complete!!!

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  • Anne
    04/05/2017
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    No action on a Supreme Court nomination until we know WHAT the Russian connection to the Administration is revealed.

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  • Nikki
    04/05/2017
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    It is important that we give people a voice in our republic. Instead of using the nuclear option, why not find a nominee that gets the 60 votes. It is crucial that both parties work to find a person that is agreeable to both. It Republicans give up on Gorsuch, it might clear the wrongdoing of what they did to Garland.

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  • Eric
    04/05/2017
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    Some facts we might ponder again at this juncture in our American democracy. First, Vladimir Putin expressly aims to weaken western democracy. Second, Russia attacked the U.S. through our presidential election (regardless of your preference for the outcome of the election, this should be concerning to you if you're at all an American). And here we are so ready and willing to launch a "nuclear" attack on ourselves- by doing harmful things to our own government like getting rid of the power of the people through filibuster. Well, if I was Putin, I'd be thinking "mission accomplished!" To answer the question, no, do not get rid of the filibuster.

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  • Bob
    04/04/2017
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    This is a no win situation. For most Republicans, Trump's presidency opens the door to continued judges considered too conservative to begin sitting on courts across the nation. Judges need to pass a 60 vote margin. Judges need to be acceptable to both parties, and I believe it can be done.

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  • Jeri
    04/05/2017
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    I wrote yesterday. But I have to comment again. I have read all the comments in response to this issue as well as other issues. I read the responses to Trumps stupid tweeting. No one likes what is going on in Washington. And yet, our elected officials don't listen. No positive responses to Trumps stupid tweets. So who are you people listening to? Who are you working for? It must be a very small minority or is it possibly just your power agenda. I am so tired of all of it.

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  • Thomas
    04/05/2017
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    Do not change the rules. Change the nominee.

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  • Joanne
    04/04/2017
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    There should be NO decision made for Supreme Court Justice while Trump and his cronies are under investigation for Russia, which is a very serious situation

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