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

The stage is set for a brutal Supreme Court fight

Donald Trump announced yesterday that he’ll announce his Supreme Court nominee tonight, at a dramatic prime-time White House event. There’s been no official word about the president’s choice, though the short list has reportedly narrowed to a handful of conservative jurists.

The nominee should not, however, expect a warm reception from the Senate Democratic minority. Politico reported yesterday:
Senate Democrats are going to try to bring down President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick no matter who the president chooses to fill the current vacancy.

With Trump prepared to announce his nominee on Tuesday evening, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said in an interview on Monday morning that he will filibuster any pick that is not Merrick Garland and that the vast majority of his caucus will oppose Trump’s nomination. That means Trump’s nominee will need 60 votes to be confirmed by the Senate.
“This is a stolen seat. This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat,” Merkley told Politico, echoing rhetoric he’s used before. “We will use every lever in our power to stop this.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters yesterday, “[Before Senate Democrats] even heard who this individual is, you’ve got some of them saying, ‘Absolutely no.’ I mean, that just shows you that it’s all about politics, it’s not about qualification.”

Given the circumstances, it’s an amusing perspective. Within minutes of learning of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last year, Republicans said, in effect, “Absolutely no” to the idea of confirming President Obama’s nominee, before President Obama had even chosen a nominee. If memory serves, Sean Spicer did not complain at the time about the Senate majority prioritizing politics over qualifications.

Compounding the comedy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), after blocking Merrick Garland last year, told Fox News last week that Trump’s nominee “will be confirmed.”

To paraphrase Spicer, before Senate Republicans even heard who this individual is, you’ve got some of them saying, ‘Absolutely yes.’ I mean, that just shows you that it’s all about politics, it’s not about qualifications.

As for what you should expect from the process, there are a few angles worth watching. The first is whether Senate Democrats are able to stick together the way Senate Republicans did last year, and there’s already evidence that a Democratic blockade will have meaningful gaps.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, a member of the Judiciary Committee told CNN he is still seething over the Republicans’ decision to block Judge Merrick Garland from filling the seat when they refused to hold hearings and votes on his nomination last year.

“But I’m not going to do to President Trump’s nominee what the Republicans in the Senate did to President Obama’s,” Coons said. “I will push for a hearing and I will push for a vote.” Other Democrats privately agreed with that sentiment.
Second, if a Democratic filibuster has enough votes to prevent the nominee’s confirmation, there’s a very real possibility that Senate Republicans will execute their own version of the “nuclear option” and eliminate the 60-vote hurdle altogether.

Finally, let’s not forget that none of this is happening in a vacuum. Donald Trump’s agenda, including his controversial Muslim ban, will likely face tests at the high court, and senators who support Trump’s nominee are indirectly helping clear the way for the president’s most provocative priorities.

Watch this space.