WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins took to the Senate floor Tuesday to urge Democrats to abandon their move to block the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, calling him “unquestionably qualified.”
Confirmation hearings for Gorsuch ended last Thursday on a tense note after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York vowed to block a vote on his confirmation, according to The Washington Post.
Under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster, and Republicans control only 52 seats in the chamber. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not ruled out using the “nuclear option” to require only a simple majority to confirm a Supreme Court justice, saying on CNN’s “State of the Union” in February “that is up to our Democratic friends.”
But Collins warned her colleagues in a speech on the Senate floor before noon Tuesday that “playing politics with judicial nominees is profoundly damaging to the Senate’s reputation and stature. It politicizes our judicial nomination process and threatens the independence of our courts, which are supposed to be above partisan politics.”
“The Senate should resist the temptation to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee who is unquestionably qualified,” she said.
Her call to avoid politicizing judicial nominees generally adheres to statements Collins made in early 2016, when Senate Republicans refused to hold hearings on former President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Judge Merrick Garland.
Collins urged Senate Republicans to “ follow the regular order” in considering the nomination of Garland, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and hold public hearings and either consent or withhold consent.
“The only way that we can do that is by thoroughly vetting the nominee, and that means having personal meetings,” she told NPR in March 2016.
She met Garland at her office in Washington in April 2016.
Collins praised Gorsuch, who sits on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado, for his ability to separate his personal views on policy issues when he steps into the courtroom. Of the more than 2,700 opinions he has joined, he often sides with the majority, she said.
“If it can be said that Judge Gorsuch would bring a philosophy to the Supreme Court, it would be his respect for the rule of law, and his belief that no one is above the law, including any President or any Senator,” she said.
“I am convinced that Judge Gorsuch does not rule according to his personal views, but rather he follows the facts and the law where they lead him — even if he personally is unhappy with the result,” Collins said. “To paraphrase his answer to one of my questions about putting aside his personal views, he said that a judge who is happy with all of his rulings is likely not a good judge.”
Collins previously met with Gorsuch at her office in Washington in February.
Her endorsement came on a day when progressive Maine advocacy groups scheduled demonstrations outside her offices in Maine in an effort to convince Collins to oppose Gorsuch’s nomination.
McConnell said on Tuesday that the Senate would have a final vote on April 7 on Gorsuch, even as more Democrats opposed his confirmation.
The Gorsuch nomination, McConnell told reporters, will hit the Senate floor next week after the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday approves him. McConnell added that Gorsuch will be “confirmed on Friday” of next week.
The confirmation of Gorsuch, 49, would restore the nine-seat court’s conservative majority, a major campaign promise for President Donald Trump.
Reuters contributed to this report.