Democrats shouldn’t filibuster court pick

What will Senate Democrats do? That’s the question now that President Donald Trump has followed through on this pledge to nominate a deeply conservative judge with strong credentials to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

Will the Senate Democrats filibuster the appointment? With 48 seats, they have the votes to do so. They have the grounds, surely, after the Republicans’ damaging decision last year to refuse even to hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland.

But we urge Democrats to choose another path. They should use the committee hearings to vet the nominee, Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Justice Neil Gorsuch, but then they should vote him up or down, as their conscience permits. Barring some shocking revelation, they should not filibuster his appointment.

Why should the Democrats take the high road when, just last year, their Republican counterparts behaved with such bald partisanship? When Trump, rather than seeking to heal wounds by nominating a moderate judge as Obama did in naming Garland, has settled instead on a judge who’s far to the ideological right?

Because that’s the right thing to do. And for Democrats, very likely the smart thing to do, too.

Allowing the Gorsuch nomination to go forward is the right thing to do because it’s the only way to begin healing the serious damage done to the Senate confirmation process. Last year’s decision by the Republican majority dealt a serious blow to the confirmation process, but the damage did not begin there. Three years before, the Democratic leader weakened the institution as well, by pushing through on a technicality a rules change that limited the use of the filibuster against lower-court judges and Cabinet nominees — a dangerous step Democrats already regret.

The only way to heal that damage is for a return to what Senate traditions call for — respect for the president’s choices, so long as they are not unfit for the job and within the ideological mainstream. Gorsuch appears to meet these tests, and if the presumption survives rigorous hearings, Democrats should not deny him an up-or-down vote.

The second reason Democrats should avoid using the filibuster is because it’s not likely to prevail. Sure, they could conceivably derail this appointment. But to what end? If they block Gorsuch’s nomination — and it’s by no means certain they could — what chances do they have that they will like the next nominee any better? With the midterm elections two years away, and the Senate firmly in GOP hands, Trump has all the time he needs to break Democratic resistance.

Democrats are going to have to pick their fights with care, and a filibuster of this nominee, at this time, is a fight they should walk away from.

— THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS