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“Stolen Seat”: A Look Back on How Republicans Blocked Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee

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President Trump was only able to nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia because the Republican-led Senate refused to consider Obama’s nominee for the post last year. Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland on March 16, but Republican senators refused to hold confirmation hearings for months. Many are now calling Gorsuch’s nomination a “stolen seat.” For more, we speak with Ian Milhiser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and justice editor of ThinkProgress. We also speak with Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to ask about what happened last year with Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia after he died. This is President Obama speaking last March when he made the nomination.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing and then an up-or-down vote. If you don’t, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair. … The reputation of the Supreme Court will inevitably suffer. Faith in our justice system will inevitably suffer. Our democracy will ultimately suffer, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama last March, when he nominated Merrick Garland. Nan Aron, the significance of what took place over this last year? Nan?

NAN ARON: Our senators, the American people are just anguished over the mistreatment of Merrick Garland by Republicans. Here you had a nominee who enjoyed support from both Democrats and Republican senators, had a moderate record. And, in fact, not one Republican senator, during the time they blocked a hearing and a vote, indicated that he or she had any particular criticisms of his record. So here you had a sterling candidate with a sterling record, and yet Republicans failed to give him a hearing, failed to give him a vote, hoping a Republican president would be voted into office and that that president would then name his own Supreme Court justice. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened. But it’s important to note that not one Republican senator last year criticized anything about Merrick Garland’s record. So it was just simply a disgraceful, a shameful abuse of power. And the Senate will remember it.

But it’s important to know and to note that the Senate will not act on the basis of tit-for-tat on what happened to Merrick Garland. That’s the past. The Senate should be focused and will be focused on Neil Gorsuch’s record and the—whether or not he is the proper, appropriate person to take a seat on that Supreme Court. That is what this discussion and this debate will focus on—

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly—

NAN ARON: —not Merrick Garland.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Ian Millhiser, on environmental issues, this Colorado jurist, Neil Gorsuch—explain his position on Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council.


AMY GOODMAN: And also, whether you think his mother, Anne Gorsuch, who was the first woman EPA administrator, fiercely anti-regulation—


AMY GOODMAN: —ultimately forced out over a corruption scandal, has relevance here?

IAN MILLHISER: Well, I mean, I am cautious about imputing the views of the mother to the son, but when you look at Neil Gorsuch’s record, it looks like the apple did not fall far from the tree here. What this Chevron case is—the Chevron doctrine is basically a doctrine of modesty. It says that courts should recognize that they’re not elected, and they should defer to much of what the agencies do, when those agencies try to do their job. What’s going to happen if Gorsuch succeeds in dismantling Chevron is it’s going to shift power from the federal agencies, which are responsible to an elected president, to the unelected judiciary, at the moment when Republicans are consolidating their control over the judiciary. And that means that if four years from now there’s a Democratic president, that Democratic president could find it very hard to govern, could find it very hard to put environmental regulations in place, very hard to put labor regulations in place, because every time they want to do it, they have to ask permission from Neil Gorsuch.

AMY GOODMAN: And that issue of labor, his stand in cases on labor rights?

IAN MILLHISER: Well, this Chevron issue goes to virtually any subject. I mean, if you look at how President Obama governed, largely due to gerrymandering, it was impossible for him to take—or for Democrats to take back the House, and so he had to look to the regulatory agencies. And so, he tried to fight global warming through the agencies. He tried to expand access to overtime pay through the agencies. He tried to prevent LGBT discrimination through the agencies. And if Gorsuch gets his way on Chevron, the next Democratic president is going to lose all of that power, or, at the very least, is going to have to go begging for permission to a Republican-controlled court every time they want their agencies to do some sort of regulatory action.

AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to read very quickly from the New York Daily News and get your response, Ian. “President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court expressed disdain for apartheid protesters in a series of columns published by a Columbia University newspaper—and one time had to retract a fabricated story about a student activist, the Daily News has learned. Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated by Trump on Tuesday night, graduated from the Ivy League school”—that’s Columbia—”in 1988 with a political science degree. While enrolled, Gorsuch penned columns for the Columbia Daily Spectator about what he perceived as a liberal bias plaguing the student body. In one column, Gorsuch blasted student 'coalitions' protesting American companies profiting off of South Africa’s segregationist Apartheid system.” Now, this is when he was very young, but your thoughts on this?

IAN MILLHISER: Yeah, I mean, I am cautious about imputing the beliefs that people had in college to who they are as an adult. I think that if any of my college friends knew that I was appearing on this show, they would be shocked to learn that. So, people do change. But when you look at Neil Gorsuch’s record, I think it’s pretty clear from how he has behaved as an adult and as a judge, that he still holds a very conservative ideology, and that, you know, when you look at his record from when he was in college, it’s clear that he’s held very conservative views for a very long time.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ian Millhiser, I won’t ask why they would be shocked, but thank you very much for joining us, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the editor of ThinkProgress Justice, and Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice.

When we come back, we take a look at Stephen Bannon, who has become the top aide to President Trump. Stay with us.

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