With typical Trumpian showmanship, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch has been chosen the winner of this season’s Supreme Court Apprentice. Now it’s time for the Senate to start slugging it out over the nominee’s confirmation. And you know what that means: Let’s get ready to obsess about the filibuster!
Even before Trump’s High Court pick was unveiled, senators found themselves swept up in hot and heavy speculation over whether the chamber will get tangled up in that most popular of obstructionist tools. Will Democrats, still bent about Republicans’ stonewalling of Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, dig in and seriously filibuster Trump’s choice? If so, will they be slammed as obstructionists? If not, will they be dismissed as wimps? Can Republicans peel off enough vulnerable Democrats to meet the threshold for cloture? Which members are likely to break ranks? Most tantalizing of all, at what point might Majority Leader Mitch McConnell get fed up enough to “go nuclear” and end the filibuster altogether?
Of all the Senate’s conventions, none sparks quite the same curiosity, or fury, as the filibuster. The practice is, after all, what imbues individual senators with the power to hold the rest of the their colleagues hostage. (Looking at you, Ted Cruz.) In theory, the filibuster provides for extended debate of an issue until at least 60 members call for “cloture.” In practice, lawmakers need merely threaten a filibuster to put a bill, or a Supreme Court nominee, on indefinite hold out of partisan spite or personal pique. At this point, pretty much everyone in the Senate has an unhealthy love-hate relationship with the process—which is why no one should expect it to be chucked out the window any time soon.