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Politics & Government

Sen. Blumenthal Probes Whether Gorsuch Nomination Should Be Blocked

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Earlier this week, President Trump announced his choice to replace former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He has chosen Neil Gorsuch, a federal judge who's been hailed by conservative groups. Some Democrats are not as thrilled, and many say they have questions for the president's nominee. Among them is Senator Richard Blumenthal. He is a Democrat from Connecticut, and he joins us on the line this morning.

Senator, good morning.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Good morning to you, David. Thank you.

GREENE: Well, thanks for being here. You have tweeted that if you determined that Judge Gorsuch is out of the mainstream, you would use every tool you can to block him. What exactly qualifies as out of the mainstream?

BLUMENTHAL: The mainstream is, for example, a respect for well-established precedent, a case like Roe v. Wade which has numerous progeny, or cases that follow it. A mainstream thinker also puts individual rights ahead of corporate interests. A mainstream thinker is a unifier, a moderate, someone who will keep the executive branch in check, which is required, particularly at a time when this chief executive, Donald Trump, is doing so much that raises severe constitutional questions.

And in my view, a mainstream thinker would rule unconstitutional these orders that have been issued that ban Muslims from coming into this country. Four judges already have stayed the orders. So those kinds of criteria, I would apply. They are critical to me because this appointment is for life on the nation's highest court, and that's one of the reasons I think there ought to be a 60-vote majority.

GREENE: Well, let me let me ask you if I may about one of those issues. You mentioned Roe v. Wade and the issue of abortion. Do you know something in this judge's record that would suggest that, I mean, you're certain that he would try and overturn that?

BLUMENTHAL: I'm going to be scrutinizing the judge's record. And that's part of the challenge because we need to know what his views are likely to be, even though he may not have ruled explicitly on this issue. And he has said various things in his rulings, opinions, writings that may reflect on it, and I want to ask him in the hearings. I'm on the judiciary committee, so I'll have that opportunity.

GREENE: Right. Well, let me drill down a little bit when it comes this definition of mainstream, this word that you're using. I mean, abortion is something that that obviously divides many Americans. There's new polling recently from the Pew Research Center that suggests that nearly 7 in 10 Americans want Roe v. Wade to not be overturned. I mean, is it a polling thing? Do you look at an issue like that and you say a certain number of Americans have come to a point where you believe having a certain opinion would be out of the mainstream?

BLUMENTHAL: No, it's not a matter of public opinion on a particular jurisprudential issue or a constitutional principle. It really goes to the root of a judge's philosophy - sitting on a bench, deciding cases whether he or she respects well-established precedent. There's a doctrine called stare decisis. Without going into all the legal gobbledygook, what it means essentially is that judges respect past opinions and rulings that established settled law. And I want to know whether Judge Gorsuch respects the settled law that is Roe v. Wade and the cases that have followed it, which establish a woman's right to decide when and where she becomes pregnant. And that kind of privacy right is at the core of our Constitution.

So it's not about polling, it's really about privacy and the right of privacy under the Fourth Amendment, which relates not only to this issue of women's health care - and that is a profoundly important issue - but also government spying, Russian spying. The right of privacy precludes excessive or overreaching government action that interferes with those rights to be let alone, as one of the justices said in describing it.

GREENE: I just want to look at what is, in terms of chronology, sort of a comparable case. In 2009, President Obama, you know, just elected, he nominates Sonia Sotomayor to the court. Your Republican colleague from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander, said he disagreed with her over judicial philosophy, disagreed on specific issues like Second Amendment rights but had to recognize that elections have consequences and Obama had chosen someone who was qualified. He said Sotomayor, you know, had the right temperament, had the right experience. I mean, couldn't this be a similar case, where you decide - OK, there are some issues that sort of worry you, but, I mean, at his core, he is a qualified person?

BLUMENTHAL: On certain issues Judge Gorsuch may be qualified. He certainly had a good education. But the question really, for me, is whether he is in the mainstream - whether he has this respect for privacy rights, whether he will put individual interests over corporate interests, whether he's a moderate and a unifier - because the court needs to be brought back together.

On the other hand, if he threatens privacy rights, including women's health care, worker and consumer protections and public safety and health, I will do everything I can, use every legal tool available to block his nomination. And I believe, one way or the other, there ought to be a 60-vote majority. This lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court ought to be by more than a razor-thin margin.

GREENE: All right. Senator Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us.

Senator Richard Blumenthal is a Democrat from the state of Connecticut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.