Bennet distinguishes himself on court vote

Neil Gorsuch will become a Supreme Court justice today after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked the “nuclear option” Thursday to assure his confirmation.

Senate Republicans voted to change the Senate rules on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominees after some Senate Democrats filibustered the nomination. With the rule-change, all presidential nominees for executive branch positions and federal courts need only a simple-majority to be confirmed by senators instead of 60 votes.

“Today’s changes to the Senate’s rules have done lasting damage to the Supreme Court and our process for approving nominees,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, said in a news release. “With these changes, justices may now be confirmed with the narrowest partisan majority. Allowing the judiciary to become a pure extension of our partisan politics is precisely the outcome our Founders feared. Moving forward, lifetime appointments to our highest court could become just another political exercise.”

Bennet spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday to urge his colleagues to make every effort to avoid the nuclear option — a position supported by the Sentinel’s editorial board.

Bennet has been a frequent visitor to the Sentinel and has spoken plainly about the dangers of hyperpartisanship. He has defended Senate procedures as more than a matter of decorum, but as safeguards against single-party rule. He’s backed it up by consistently reaching across the aisle and forging bipartisan solutions.

Now that the last remaining vestige of bipartisanship on presidential appointments is history, many senators fear that it’s only a matter of time before legislation will no longer be subject to filibuster as well. If that happens, the Senate would lose the mechanism that distinguishes it from the majority-rules House.

But the fallout from the nuclear option may act as a deterrent. The power of the filibuster creates a slower, more deliberative pace because legislation requires bipartisan cooperation. It’s not hard for senators to grasp the impotence of being in the minority. Having seen what the future holds with presidential appointments, they may unite yet on the importance of retaining a bipartisan framework to pass legislation.

Bennet tried to be the voice of reason on this issue. He opposed the filibuster but never said whether he would suport Gorsuch, a fellow Coloradan, on an up-or-down vote. We’ve criticized Rep. Scott Tipton for not declaring how he’d vote until after a recent health-care reform bill was dead in the water.

This is different. Bennet may well have voted to confirm Gorsuch if it meant preserving the 60-vote threshhold, thus saving bullets for a less-qualified candidate down the road. We may never know. But under the “new reality,” Bennet will vote against confirming Gorsuch.

“Judge Gorsuch is a very conservative judge and not one that I would have chosen,” Bennet said. “... I had concerns about his approach to the law. Those concerns grow even more significant as we confront the reality that President Trump may have several more opportunities to transform the Court with a partisan majority.”

We urged Gorsuch’s confirmation and it appears it will happen. But under the worst circumstances and against the advice of a low-key moderate trying to preserve Senate tradition.


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