Block Trump’s Supreme Court nominee? Not so fast

The Observer editorial board

Neil Gorsuch is a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Neil Gorsuch is a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. AP

President Donald Trump announced his Supreme Court nominee Tuesday night.

You and we will surely form opinions about Neil Gorsuch as we learn more about him, his credentials and his judicial history.

Senate Democrats, though, didn’t need to learn more about him. At least some had decided beforehand to block Trump’s nominee no matter who it was, no matter how qualified, and without spending a moment researching the nominee or giving him a hearing.

This is one reason Americans hate politics. The Constitution says the president nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate gives its advice and consent. Senate Democrats, though, vowed to defeat the nominee no matter what.

The Republicans are no better. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did just the opposite: He vowed that the Senate would approve Trump’s choice, again no matter who it was, no matter how unqualified, without asking him a single question.

“We’re going to get this nominee confirmed,” McConnell told Politico a day before the nominee was known.

To be sure, the Democrats were provoked into their antagonistic stance by Senate Republicans’ unprecedented and unconstitutional ignoring of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Republicans milked the clock for 10 months and Democrats are justifiably bitter about letting them enjoy their ill-gotten gains now.

Voters, though, could have voted in November to oust the Republican senators, including North Carolina’s Richard Burr, who subscribed to that ploy. They didn’t.

We are as worried as anyone about the tilt the Supreme Court might take under Trump, a damaging legacy that could last decades. If Trump is able to reshape the court, generations of progress could be undone on abortion rights, gay rights, women’s rights, guns, the separation of church and state and many other issues.

Given that, Democrats and Republicans alike must assess Gorsuch for who he is, not accept or reject him sight unseen. If he is truly far outside the mainstream, Democrats have a responsibility to do what they can to defeat him, and a handful of Republicans could join in. If he is an accomplished and respected jurist who simply has more conservative views, Democrats should give him a thorough hearing and then vote their conscience in an up-or-down vote. Even Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas were given votes.

The Democrats can’t win. If they endlessly filibuster Trump’s choice, McConnell and the Republicans will eventually employ the so-called nuclear option, cutting off debate with a simple majority and then voting to confirm. If the Democrats don’t filibuster, Gorsuch goes through hearings and is confirmed.

The Republicans stole this seat from Obama. That was as shameful as anything Congress has done in recent years and dented our democracy. Democrats should be better than that. The best they can do now is ask demanding questions at the confirmation hearings, then pray that this is the only seat Trump gets to fill.