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Oregon Sen. Wyden Troubled By Trump's Supreme Court Nominee


In the weeks since the inauguration, Oregon’s Senior Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden says he’s been busy — really busy.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah listens at right as the committee's ranking member, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. challenges Treasury Secretary-designate Stephen Mnuchin during his confirmation before the committee, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah listens at right as the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. challenges Treasury Secretary-designate Stephen Mnuchin during his confirmation before the committee, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

“The nights have sort of blended into the days,” Wyden told OPB. “It’s been really hectic.”  

Beyond his duties as a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Wyden is also leading the charge in an ongoing investigation into allegations of ties between Russia and its influence on the presidential election. And last week, he was one of the point people who orchestrated a boycott on Senate votes for both Tom Price — Trump’s cabinet pick for the Department of Health and Human Services — and Steve Mnuchin — the administration’s choice for treasury secretary.

Republican committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah called the boycott an “amazingly stupid” move, and Senate Republicans ultimately issued a rule change that allowed them to push the vote through without the Democrats’ participation.

Wyden says he found that behavior “troubling” — but it’s just one of a number of recent events troubling the sixth-term Senator. Also on that list: President Trump’s announcement last week that he was nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

On Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch

Wyden actually backed Gorsuch’s nomination to the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals back in 2006. But he says that Gorsuch’s opinions in the decade since have raised more “troubling” questions — especially when it comes to the judge’s stance on Oregon’s death with dignity law.

Oregon is one of just six states that allows death with dignity and Gorsuch is an outspoken opponent to the practice. In his 2006 book, “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” Gorsuch cites Oregon law in his arguments against death with dignity. 

“We voted twice for death with dignity,” Sen. Wyden said. “And the [United States] House of Representatives actually passed a bill in the late 1990s to get rid of our twice-passed death with dignity law. And the only reason we have it on the books today is I filibustered.

“This is a judge who is very hostile to what the people of Oregon have done,” he added.

In Gorsuch’s book, he writes that “the intentional taking of human life is always wrong.” But should Gorsuch be nominated, it’s impossible to say whether he would actually have a chance to rule on a death with dignity case. And if he did have that opportunity, it’s not certain that he would rule along the lines of his personal values — nor whether his vote would be able to tip the court in one direction or another.

On A Potential Filibuster

When asked directly whether he would support a filibuster to stall Gorsuch’s appointment, Wyden replied: “I have said it’s a good thing to have 60 votes.” When pressed, he responded, “You have to have 60 votes — I think that basically answers the question. I mean, if you have to have 60 votes, that makes it clear that you’re not going to just let the majority short-circuit the process.”

Senate procedure requires a simple majority of 51 votes to confirm or reject a Supreme Court nominee. But in order to take that vote, Senators must first agree to move the issue to the Senate floor. If a Senator disagrees with the motion, they can filibuster. And if they filibuster, 60 votes are required to stop the filibuster and move the vote to the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, has warned that if Democrats filibuster, GOP members could take the so-called “nuclear option.” That would change the required votes for a Supreme Court nominee from 60 to 51. There are 52 Senate republicans.

It’s a move that’s been used before — by Senate Democrats. In 2013, then-majority party Democrats adopted a similar rule change in order to circumvent filibusters of cabinet and federal court judges appointed by the Obama administration. The change did not apply to Supreme Court nominees. 

Ultimately, it’s still uncertain what the outcome of this standoff will be. But Sen. Wyden has made his misgivings known.

“You can look at any of the federal courts — they all play an important role. But this, this is the one that matters most,” Sen. Wyden said. “And certainly [Gorsuch’s] opinions since he went on the bench in 2006 raise, as I’ve indicated, some very troubling questions.” 

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