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Oregon senators offer views on how to block Trump's court nominee

July 6, 2018
In The News

Oregon's U.S. senators, both Democrats, agree on thwarting President Donald Trump's next nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley agree that Senate Democrats will need to stick together — the 47 Democrats are joined by two independents — and also enlist support from a handful of Republicans, who hold a one-vote majority in the chamber.

But they offer different approaches on how to go about mustering the necessary votes to block a Trump nominee, who is more likely to side with the court's four conservative justices than with its four more liberal members.

Trump expects Monday, July 9, to announce his choice to succeed the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Wyden spoke Friday at a meeting with Pamplin Media Group editors and reporters. Merkley spoke Thursday at a town hall meeting in Clackamas, and later at a news conference in Portland with Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, Gov. Kate Brown, and supporters of abortion rights.

Wyden says the next justice is likely to cast the deciding vote in any number of cases, among them a legal challenge — now backed by the Trump administration — against a requirement for health insurers to cover people regardless of their pre-existing medical conditions without additional premiums.

he requirement is contained in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which Republicans failed to repeal on several Senate votes a year ago. Three Republicans joined 48 Democrats and independents on the votes, which Wyden said showed the power of public opinion.

"Political change starts at the grassroots, not at the top," he said.


Turn back the clock?

Wyden said Trump weighed in June 7, when the administration filed a brief in U.S. District Court in a case likely to reach the high court. It argued that the coverage guarantee for pre-existing conditions was unconstitutional.

"The new justice will decide whether America will turn back the clock to the days when health care was for the healthy and wealthy," Wyden said.

"If you allow the insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, you are going to turn back the clock to the days when insurance companies can clobber those people. I think that when those people hear what is at stake, they are going to be speaking out and wanting a judge who respects precedent, not looking for ideological trophies."

By a 5-4 vote in 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberals in upholding congressional authority to pass the 2010 law.

Wyden said the same reasoning can be applied to several Supreme Court decisions authored by Kennedy, including the 2013 ruling striking down a federal ban on benefits for same-sex couples, and a 2015 ruling striking down state bans on marriage by same-sex couples. Both were decided on 5-4 votes, Kennedy joining the liberals.

"At a time America is changing, we have a record number of young people getting involved in politics," Wyden said. "When people like me make the case that what this Supreme Court nomination is about whether we are going to turn back the clock in America … I think you get independents and Republicans as well as Democrats saying we don't want any part of that."


Under investigation


Meanwhile, Merkley agreed with Wyden that opposition to a Trump nominee has to be bipartisan — but for different reasons having to do with the multiple investigations of the president and others in his administration.

"I think there should be a whole group of senators on both sides of the aisle who think it is inappropriate to have a president under investigation for multiple issues to make a nomination," he said to applause from the 250 attendees at a town hall meeting at Camp Withycombe.

"It is all going to come down to just a few votes, because there's no rule that can be utilized in such a fashion to obstruct the process — until you have 51 votes that say let's wait until these issues involving the president are cleared up. So I am hoping we'll have a few senators weigh in and do exactly that."

Merkley and other supporters of abortion rights hope to press their case with Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Collins has said she will oppose a nominee who does not respect precedents, such as the high court's 1973 decision legalizing abortion, but hasn't committed herself on a final vote.

Merkley, Rep. Bonamici and Gov. Brown appeared together at a gathering at the U.S. Courthouse in Portland.

Unlike Wyden — who still acknowledged a "double standard," but said the public won't dwell on process — Merkley decried the successful maneuvering by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2016 to block consideration of Democratic President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia.

The seat went vacant for more than a year after Scalia's death until April 7, 2017, when the Senate confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch. That vote was one day after Merkley spoke for 15 hours against it — and the Senate ended filibusters against Supreme Court nominations.

Merkley said that vote reinforced the perception of the high court as divided along partisan, not just ideological, lines.

He added:

"If this (latest) nomination goes forward, it's going to further deepen the damage that has already been done to a group of individuals that need to be respected by America, not be simply a partisan political organization that is really offending the core values of our Constitution."