Potentially nasty fight looms over Trump U.S. Supreme Court pick

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By Andrew Chung | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Jan 18 Senate Democrats are gearing
up for a potentially ugly fight over Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme
Court pick, with some liberal activists urging them to do
everything possible to block any nominee from the Republican

Democrats are still seething over the Republican-led
Senate’s decision last year to refuse to consider outgoing
President Barack Obama’s nomination of appeals court judge
Merrick Garland for a lifetime post on the court. The action had
little precedent in U.S. history and prompted some Democrats to
accuse Republicans of stealing a Supreme Court seat.

Trump last week vowed to announce his appointment within
about two weeks of taking office on Friday. He said he would
pick from among 20 candidates suggested by conservative legal
groups to fill the lingering vacancy caused by the death of
conservative Justice Antonin Scalia last Feb. 13.

Scalia’s replacement could tilt the ideological leaning of
the court for years to come, restoring the long-standing
conservative majority that disappeared with Scalia’s death just
at a time when it appeared liberals would get an upper hand on
the bench.

Liberal groups are gearing up for a battle, with the People
For the American Way calling the judges on Trump’s list of
candidates “very extreme.”

“We’re hearing from Senate Democrats and parallel concern
among outside groups that this is going to be a major fight,”
said Marge Baker, the group’s executive vice president. “We’ll
be arguing that Democrats use every means at their disposal to
defeat the nominee. This is going to be ‘all hands on deck,’
using all means at our disposal.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has said it is hard
for him to imagine Trump picking a nominee who Democrats could
support, and said he would “absolutely” fight to keep the seat
vacant rather than let the Senate confirm a Trump nominee deemed
to be outside the mainstream.

“We are not going to make it easy for them to pick a Supreme
Court justice,” Schumer told MSNBC on Jan. 3, adding that if the
Republicans “don’t appoint someone who’s really good, we’re
going to oppose them tooth and nail.”

Senate Democrats may be in a position to hold up Trump’s
selection indefinitely. Senate rules require 60 votes in the
100-seat chamber to overcome a procedural hurdle called a
filibuster on Supreme Court nominees. There are 52 Republican

Assuming all 52 back Trump’s nominee, Senate Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell either would need to lure eight Democrats to his
side or change the rules and ban the filibuster for Supreme
Court nominations. Republicans, then in the minority, complained
that their rights had been trampled when Senate Democrats in
2013 voted to eliminate the filibuster for executive branch and
judicial nominees beyond the Supreme Court.


Baker said liberals cannot hold their fire for fear that
Republicans will use this so-called nuclear option, adding, “At
some point you don’t game this out. You say, ‘This is a fight.'”

Other liberal groups urged a more conciliatory approach.

“We’re not predisposed to opposition here,” said Kristen
Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
Under Law.

Any nominee will be evaluated, Clarke said, adding that the
group is girding for a nominee who is hostile to civil rights.

Trump’s nominee could influence the court on a wide range of
issues including abortion, the death penalty, religious rights,
presidential powers, gay and transgender rights, federal
regulations and others.

Political considerations also hang over the confirmation
fight. Democrats and the two independents aligned with them in
the Senate will be defending 25 seats in the 2018 elections,
while Republicans defend only eight.

Many of those Democratic seats are in Republican-leaning
states Trump won in the Nov. 8 election, including West
Virginia, Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana, Montana, Michigan and

Republicans likely will target these and other Democrats in
hopes of coaxing them into backing Trump’s nominee. That means
Democratic senators such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin,
Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill could
face extra pressure not to block Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

The liberal groups are facing off with well-funded
conservative adversaries. The Judicial Crisis Network, for
instance, has said it will spend at least $10 million on
advertising and grassroots efforts to pressure Senate Democrats
to back Trump’s nominee.

Carrie Severino, the group’s chief counsel, said it would be
hypocritical for Democrats to block a vote after arguing the
Constitution required the Senate to act on Garland.

“A lot of them (Democrats) spent the last nine months saying
there is a constitutional duty to have a vote. I’d find it
shocking if they would not carry out what they think their duty
is,” Severino said.

Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice,
said the high level of interest the vacancy has generated among
activists, lawyers, students and others makes up for the deep
pockets of the other side. “I don’t think we’ll need $10 million
given the outcry expressed already,” Aron said. (Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Lawrence Hurley)

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