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Stabenow To Vote Against Gorsuch, Says Country Needs Mainstream Judges


The nuclear option sounds ominous. But some are using that term for what might happen in the U.S. Senate this week. Republicans have enough votes to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. They do not have the votes needed to end a likely Democratic filibuster. So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening to change the rules so filibusters don't work with this nomination or future ones. We have Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan on the line with us to talk this through.

Senator, good morning.

DEBBIE STABENOW: Good morning. It's great to be with you.

GREENE: Well, thanks as always for coming on.


GREENE: You have said that you are opposed to Gorsuch. You would support a filibuster. Why not at least give this judge a straight up or down vote in the Senate?

STABENOW: Well, I think the most important thing is to look at the big picture rather than saying filibuster. So what's the threshold of the number of votes in the Senate for somebody in the highest court in the land with a lifetime appointment? And you have to go back to the Eisenhower administration in the '50s to find somebody that wasn't either unanimously supported or met at least 60 votes, a supermajority. And in all that time, there was only one exception, which was Judge Thomas.

So on the court right now, seven of the eight members of the United States Supreme Court have met a supermajority. And why is that important? - because we need mainstream judges so that - what we need is the requirement for folks to work together. So whether it was President Clinton when, you know, he called back in the '90s to Orrin Hatch and said - you know, he suggested somebody, Orrin Hatch at the time. The judiciary chair said no, but why don't you consider a Judge Breyer or a Judge Ginsburg? And that's what...

GREENE: You're saying if there's 60 votes needed, I mean, it leads to more mainstream judges. And it leads to a president having to...

STABENOW: Absolutely.

GREENE: ...Negotiate. Well, let me ask you this - I mean, Republicans would say it is your party that got the ball rolling towards where we are today. Democrat leader Harry Reid changed the rules when President Obama was having trouble getting lower court nominees through. So is there some hypocrisy here?

STABENOW: Well, first of all, I remember the discussions in our caucus about changing the rules for the Supreme Court. And I felt very strongly and so did the majority of members saying, you know, for the Supreme Court, the rules should stay the same because of the importance to have mainstream judges. It's true.

GREENE: But why not lower court judges? Why not have mainstream lower court judges?

STABENOW: Well, it's true - which would be ideal. Here's what happened. We all know what happened under President Obama. The decision was made, for the first time ever, to start using procedure - you know, blocking, filibustering and so on - and we couldn't get anybody on the courts at all or in many of the administrative positions for the Obama administration.

And so it finally got to a point where if there were going to be judges - and we'd have close to a hundred fewer federal judges right now if we hadn't changed the rules...

GREENE: Sure, sure.

STABENOW: ...Because they wouldn't nominate anybody. So even...

GREENE: But if I may...


GREENE: ...If Harry Reid was forced to do that, why can't Mitch McConnell say the same thing right now? Democrats are blocking a Supreme Court nominee. We need someone to fill this seat, so I'm going to do the same thing Harry Reid did.

STABENOW: Because the highest court in our land is something special in terms of lifetime appointment, the final say in our country on the Constitution and so on. And just as we said, no, that the person who's there ought to be able to get a supermajority so that we know they're mainstream, I would hope that Mitch McConnell would do the same thing. And I think the most important thing to focus on is why this person isn't the right person to be on the Supreme Court.

You know, it's become a procedural kind of focus rather than saying this is somebody who in his career has over and over again sided with either big corporations or institutions against real people, whether it's a child that needs special education versus the school or a Michigan truck driver against, you know, the unfair firing by a company. The...

GREENE: Although the American Bar...

STABENOW: That's my concern.

GREENE: But the American Bar Association has given him their highest rating. I mean, you can pick out cases that you don't agree with. But if you're talking about qualifications, I mean, why does it not matter that a group like the bar association says highest rating a judge can get?

STABENOW: Well, when we talk about judges, there's two kinds of things. One is, you know - are they smart? Do they have the pedigree? Do they have the credentials? And I respect the U.S. bar for saying, yes, he meets all of that. He's got all of the right pedigrees.

But then the next thing that I care about in terms of the people I represent in Michigan is, does he have the right set of values and perspective? And is he going to be making decisions on a fair and impartial basis so the little guy has a fair shot at the highest court in the country, not just the big corporations and institutions? And that's what I worry about.

This is somebody, over and over again, from the Michigan truck driver to the child in special ed, has, in my judgment, made the wrong decisions and has had the wrong approach. And that's the most important thing to me.

GREENE: Just about 15 seconds left - Bob Corker, your Republican colleague from Tennessee, says both parties are to blame here. A lot of senators seem disgusted that this has come to this. Is this a sad moment for the Senate?

STABENOW: It is a sad moment. And what would be great is if colleagues on both sides came together and decided to find a compromise.


STABENOW: I think that would be terrific.

GREENE: All right. We'll have to leave it there. Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, thank you so much.

STABENOW: My pleasure.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: During this interview, Sen. Stabenow says that in recent decades only Judge Clarence Thomas did not receive at least 60 votes in the Senate. When a vote was taken in 2006 to end debate over Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination, there was a supermajority (72 senators) in favor. But Alito was confirmed by a vote of 58-42.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 27, 2017 at 11:00 PM CDT
During this interview, Sen. Stabenow says that in recent decades only Judge Clarence Thomas did not receive at least 60 votes in the Senate. When a vote was taken in 2006 to end debate over Justice Samuel Alito's nomination, there was a supermajority (72 senators) in favor. But Alito was confirmed by a vote of 58-42.