The Corner

A Bit More on Up-or-Down Votes

In response to Tony Snow, RIP

As I noted earlier today, Democrats’ threats to filibuster Judge Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court conflict with their statements last year that the Constitution requires an up-or-down vote on any Supreme Court nomination. Senator Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) said last year, for example, that senators have a “very serious constitutional responsibility that I take seriously, to record a vote on a presidential nominee for a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Some Democrats are implicitly arguing that a vote to filibuster a nomination is the same as an up-or-down vote on it. They may be arguing it only implicitly because it’s too brazen to say openly that blocking an up-or-down vote is the same thing as having one. But Senator Nelson has, in the past, been perfectly clear about the distinction. In 2006, he voted to allow a final vote on Samuel Alito’s confirmation to the Supreme Court even though he in the end voted no on the nomination. Alito, he said, “should get an up-or-down vote in the full Senate and, when that happens, I’ll vote against his confirmation” (Kathy Kiely, “Democrats Clear Way for Alito Vote,” USA Today, 1/31/06). A Nelson spokesman said that the senator had voted against a filibuster because of his belief that “judges deserve a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote” (William March, “Nelson Treads Road To Moderation As Campaign Looms,” the Tampa Tribune, 2/4/06).

Now Nelson is sending signals that he will join a filibuster against Gorsuch. That’s his prerogative: It was always hard to give credence to Nelson’s 2016 argument that senators have a “very serious constitutional responsibility” to hold a vote on a Supreme Court nomination. Evidently Nelson has decided that he doesn’t take that view seriously either.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.