WASHINGTON — Maryland's two Democratic senators said Tuesday they will oppose President Donald Trump's nominee to serve on the Supreme Court, but they took a different approach on how far they would go to try to stop his confirmation.
Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen said in separate statements that Judge Neil Gorsuch falls outside of the judicial mainstream and questioned his ability to separate his political and legal views. Van Hollen went further, saying Gorsuch should be held to a 60-vote standard in order to be seated on the court.
Democratic leaders announced last week that they will filibuster Gorsuch. The discussion is now focused on whether Republicans can pull together the 60 votes needed to cut off debate or whether the GOP will attempt a significant rules changes to undermine the filibuster.
An aide to Van Hollen said the senator will support a filibuster if needed to block Gorsuch. Cardin, who has generally supported allowing nominees an up-or-down vote even in cases when he opposes them, is still weighing his decision on the procedure.
"Despite his protestations, his record points to a jurist who has not separated his political views from his legal views," Cardin said in a statement. "I do not believe that he would serve as an independent check on this president, who has tested the limits of the Constitution and the separation of powers in a way that no other modern president has done."
"While he is undoubtedly a skilled lawyer, his bias in favor of corporate power, coupled with his refusal to answer reasonable questions, lead me to conclude that he falls outside the judicial mainstream," Van Hollen said. "With so much at stake, we need a nominee who can give the country confidence that he or she will be impartial."
Gorsuch likely has enough support from Republicans to win confirmation in a majority vote. A filibuster would require 60 votes to cut off debate and proceed to a final vote. If Democrats pursue that course, Republican leaders will have to decide if they want to erode the power of the filibuster -- just as Democrats did for other nominees in 2013 -- by triggering the "nuclear option."
The parliamentary maneuver would allow Republicans to approve Gorsuch by a simple majority, but it would also set a precedent for future confirmations that would undermine the minority party. That was a painfully clear reality for Democrats this year, who were largely unable to block Trump's cabinet appointments from winning confirmation.
Democratic leaders have said they ultimately regretted the 2013 decision, but they will have no leverage to stop Republicans from taking the same approach this year on Supreme Court nominees.
Democrats, meanwhile, are under pressure from core voters to use every possible avenue to block Gorsuch. Many in the party are still angry Republicans held up President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, denying him a hearing or a vote for nine months until Trump was inaugurated.
"After the Senate's unprecedented abdication of constitutional responsibility with respect to the Garland nomination, we must begin to restore faith in the Supreme Court," Van Hollen said. "That requires a nominee who is widely viewed to be an impartial administrator of justice -- someone who is truly in the mainstream and who can earn the support of at least 60 senators. I will insist that this nominee be held to that standard."