Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., held the Senate floor overnight with a 15-and-a-half-hour speech opposing the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Oregon lawmaker yielded the Senate floor at 7:13 a.m. Pacific time Wednesday after giving what his staff said was one of the 10 longest speeches in Senate history.
“We can rise above the situation in which we have put ourselves, the situation in which one team for the first time in U.S. history has stolen a Supreme Court seat,” a visibly tired Merkley said shortly before ending his speech.
Several news media accounts said Merkley’s speech was not technically a filibuster because it didn’t actually delay a vote on Gorsuch’s confirmation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had filed a motion to end debate immediately upon taking up the Gorsuch nomination on Tuesday. Under Senate rules, that motion can’t be voted on until Thursday.
Merkley spokesman Ray Zaccaro said it was correct that the Oregon senator’s lengthy speech didn’t delay the nomination. However, he added, “I don’t know what could have been more of a filibuster,” given the length of Merkley’s speech.
Zaccaro said McConnell’s motion to end debate before it started was unprecedented. Republicans say that if they cannot get the 60 votes they need on Thursday to end debate, they will change Senate rules to prohibit filibusters on Supreme Court nominations.
Zaccaro said Merkley’s long speech was in keeping with his argument that filibusters should be conducted by senators actually holding the floor. When Democrats held the majority in 2013, Merkley successfully pushed for rules limiting the filibuster so it did not apply to executive branch appointments and judges below the level of Supreme Court.
Merkley’s lengthy speech helped raise his visibility as one of the most outspoken opponents of Gorsuch and of President Donald Trump. Zaccaro said more than two million people watched at least some of Merkley’s speech on his Facebook Live feed.
Merkley and other Democrats argued even before Gorsuch was nominated that Republicans should not be allowed to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat with anyone other than appeals court judge Merrick Garland. He was President Barack Obama’s choice for the court; Senate Republicans refused last year to consider the nomination.
Following the nomination of Gorsuch, Merkley argued that the federal appeals court judge from Denver was too far to the right and tended to support corporate interests.