Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016. 
Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Senate Democrats prepare to hold open Supreme Court vacancy

For months, the Senate Republicans’ Supreme Court gamble looked like the boneheaded political strategy of the decade. GOP senators launched a radical and unprecedented blockade, refusing to consider President Obama’s compromise nominee, because they thought their party would soon control the White House and Congress.

After Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, and everyone assumed there was simply no way Americans would elect a ridiculous television personality to the world’s most powerful office, the GOP gambit was destined to become one of the all-time miscalculations.

Or so we thought, right up until Election Day.

The question now is what the Senate Democratic minority intends to do about it. A week after the election, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that Senate Republicans’ treatment of a qualified, moderate jurist was effectively a political crime. A Supreme Court seat, the Oregon senator argued, was “stolen from the Obama administration and the construct of our Constitution. And it’s being delivered to an administration that has no right to fill it.”

Merkley added, “There’s no legitimacy to a Supreme Court justice in a seat that’s been stolen from one administration and handed to another. We need to do everything we possibly can to block it.”

The Rachel Maddow Show, 1/3/17, 9:26 PM ET

Schumer: Dems will resist Trump on 'stolen' Supreme Court seat

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer talks with Rachel Maddow about the Senate Republicans’ radical refusal to allow President Obama to name a Supreme Court justice, and how Democrats plan to treat Donald Trump’s nominee.
And what might that include? Rachel asked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about his party’s plans, and his comments were surprising.
SCHUMER: I can’t – it’s hard for me to imagine a nominee that Donald Trump would choose that would get Republican support that we could support. So you’re right.

MADDOW: And so you will do your best to hold the seat open?

SCHUMER: Absolutely.
Asked if it’s fair to say the Supreme Court vacancy is “basically a stolen seat,” Schumer replied, simply, “Yes.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office was only too pleased last night to send around quotes Democrats made last year about the need for nine justices on the high court.

I imagine Dems will be equally eager to send around quotes from several Senate Republicans, who said – when they assumed Trump would lose – that they were prepared to block any Supreme Court nominee, regardless of merit, until 2021, at the earliest.

In other words, the parties will have no trouble effectively swapping each other’s talking points, with Republicans reading the Democratic script from 2016, and vice versa.

Keep in mind, judicial nominees can now be confirmed by a majority vote, but that does not apply to Supreme Court nominees, who can still be filibustered. If Schumer is serious about this, and Democrats remain largely united against a far-right Trump nominee – assuming Trump sends a far-right nominee to the Senate for consideration – the Republican majority will have to choose whether to execute a “nuclear option” of their own.

This fight may start to unfold as early as this month.

Chuck Schumer, Jeff Merkley, Senate Democrats and Supreme Court

Senate Democrats prepare to hold open Supreme Court vacancy