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Dems Still Smarting Over Garland Snub on Gorsuch's First Hearing Day

WASHINGTON – Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee showed that they have not forgotten – nor are most in the mood to forgive – the treatment accorded erstwhile U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland by the Republican majority, and it might spell trouble for the man chosen by President Trump to fill the still open high court slot: Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch.

During the opening day of Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, Democrats consistently noted the GOP’s refusal to provide Garland due consideration. While several expressed their intent to keep an open mind regarding the Gorsuch nomination, several cast a shadow over his prospects because of the handling of Garland, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., nominated by then-President Obama to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Scalia seat has been vacant for more than 13 months as a result of the Garland snub. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the former committee chairman, said the “unprecedented obstruction” by Republicans of the Garland nomination “is one of the greatest stains on the 200-year history of this committee.”

“This was an extraordinary blockade and one backed by then-candidate Donald Trump,” Leahy said. “Committee Republicans met behind closed doors and declared that they would surrender the independence of this committee to do the majority leader’s bidding, and they ignored the Constitution in the process.”

Leahy further noted that the Judiciary Committee once opposed a court-packing scheme by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to get his New Deal initiatives past high court objections.

“That was a proud moment,” he said. “Now, Republicans on this committee are guilty of their own ‘court un-packing scheme.’ The blockade of Chief Judge Merrick Garland was never grounded in principle or precedent.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) characterized the Garland brush-off as “a truly historic dereliction of duty of the body, and a tactic as cynical as it was irresponsible.”

The views of Democrats are pertinent since the Gorsuch nomination is open to filibuster. He undoubtedly will garner the votes necessary to get out of committee, but he will likely need 60 votes for confirmation. With Republicans holding a relatively slight 52-46 edge in the upper chamber, with two independents caucusing with the Democrats, the GOP either has to find eight votes in the minority or change Senate rules to ensure Gorsuch can assume his spot on the high court bench.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, has expressed confidence that the Gorsuch nomination will slide through and has consistently expressed a distaste over invoking what has come to be known as the nuclear option – changing rules by a simple majority vote, freeing the nomination from a potential filibuster.

It may be the only solution. While Democrats remain chagrined over Garland’s treatment, they also aren’t taken with Gorsuch’s judicial history on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.