U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley Talks For Nearly 16 Hours in Effort to Block Supreme Court Confirmation

Oregon's junior senator kicks off opposition to Trump's Supreme Court nominee—and shifts his position.

Jeff Merkley delivering fuel to fellow filibusterers

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley kicked off an Democratic Party effort to block the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch by speaking on the Senate floor for nearly 16 hours last night.

Merkley and his Democratic colleagues are hoping to use one of the Senate's many arcane practices, the filibuster, to in essence talk so long that they can block a vote on Gorsuch.

Under current Senate rules, it would take 60 votes for Republicans to override a Democratic filibuster.

Republicans control the Senate 52-48, so Democratic tactics could block Gorsuch's confirmation, except as the majority party, Republicans have the option of changing the rules to allow his confirmation to occur on a simple majority vote. In hyperbolic fashion, senators refer to that potential rule change as the "nuclear option."

Merkley, a former speaker of the Oregon House, is well-versed in the tactics lawmakers can employ to frustrate the other party.

His desire to hold Gorsuch's confirmation hostage to the 60-vote requirement, however, marks a shift from the position he took in a 2014 interview with the Huffington Post.

Then, he opined that a Supreme Court nominee should be confirmed with only 51 votes.

"It should be a simple majority," Merkley told The Huffington Post, adding that he would stand firm even if Republicans keep the Senate and gain control of the presidency two years from now. "Not long ago, Supreme Court justices who were highly controversial — it was a simple majority. 'Advice and consent' was never envisioned as a check that involved a minority of the Senate being able to block a presidential [nomination]."

Of course, since 2014, the Republican majority in the Senate refused even to hold hearings on President Barack Obama's final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Obama hoped Garland would replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia and shift the balance of the nine-member court to the left.

Republicans' refusal to consider Garland's nomination raised the partisan stakes around the Supreme Court to a new high—or low, depending on your point of view—and cost Merkley sleep last night.

"I'm here on the floor at 4:20 in the morning," he said to the New York Times at one point, nearing 10 hours in, "because so much is at stake."

The Senate is expected to call for a vote on Gorsuch on Thursday, at which time Democrats hope to block the nomination.

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