Chuck Schumer Says His 2007 Promise to Block Supreme Court Nominees Is Not Relevant Anymore

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Sen. Chuck Schumer says Republicans should not cite a speech he gave in 2007 when explaining why they will block President Barack Obama’s pending nominee to the Supreme Court.

That’s his videotaped speech in which he promised to block President George W. Bush’s nominees to the Supreme Court, and in which he urged other Democratic Senators to block Bush’s nominees.

Quoting his own words back at him is “comparing apples to oranges,” says Schumer, who is expected to become the leader of the Democratic Senators in 2017.

Writing at Medium, Schumer states:

What I said in the speech given in 2007 is simple: Democrats, after a hearing, should entertain voting no if the nominee is out of the mainstream and tries to cover that fact up. There was no hint anywhere in the speech that there shouldn’t be hearings or a vote. Only that if after hearings and a vote, Democrats determined that the nominee was out of the mainstream and trying to hide it, they should have no qualms about voting no. Nor was there any hint that this idea that Democrats should oppose hard right ideologues should apply only in the fourth year of the president’s term. In fact, I said it should apply to this president, George W. Bush, or any future president whenever they nominated such a candidate.

The speech that Schumer gave – in which he declared Democrats had been “hoodwinked” into confirming Chief Justice Roberts – differed somewhat from the prepared text. The affected parts of the speech begin at about 24.00:

Schumer states:

[F]or the rest of this President’s term and if there is another Republican elected with the same selection criteria let me say this:

We should reverse the presumption of confirmation. The Supreme Court is dangerously out of balance. We cannot afford to see Justice [Paul] Stevens replaced by another Roberts; or Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg by another [Samuel] Alito.

Given the track record of this President and the experience of obfuscation at hearings, with respect to the Supreme Court, at least: I will recommend to my colleagues that we should not confirm any Bush nominee to the Supreme Court EXCEPT in extraordinary circumstances. They must prove by actions not words that they are in the mainstream, rather than we have to prove that they are not.

So, in conclusion:

In the end, these three questions provide the foundation for thinking about how we ensure that our Court reflects what America wants, rather than what a diminishing clique of conservative ideologues wish for.

There is no doubt we were hoodwinked. Let me remind you of one particularly striking passage from Justice Roberts’ confirmation hearings:

Senator Graham asked him: “The idea of a dramatic departure under your watch from the Rehnquist era is probably not going to happen, is that true?”

Roberts responded: “Given my view of the role of a judge which focuses on appropriate modesty and humility, the notion of dramatic departures is not one that I would hold out much hope for.”

Of course, now, only a short while later, we have a better understanding.

There is no way to say it better than Justice Breyer; it bears repeating: “It is not often,” he said, “in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.”

And this somber judgment after just one full term of Roberts and Alito.

This is just a prologue.

Considering the Constitutional harm and “dramatic departures” that are in store if those few are joined by one more ideological ally.

We have to, in my judgment, stick by the precepts that I’ve elaborated.

I will do everything in my power to prevent one more ideological ally from joining Roberts and Alito on the court.

Schumer writes now that the argument he made in his 2007 speech was “based on hard right ideologues who did not follow precedent being approved to the court‎;‎ not on a president’s right to nominate, but on the Senate’s right to advise and consent once a full confirmation process, as outlined in the Constitution, was undertaken by the Senate.”

While Schumer gave this speech in 2007, ironically it was Chief Justice Roberts in 2012 who saved Obamacare, by upholding the individual mandate in Obama’s signature healthcare law as a “tax,” rather than as a penalty required by the law.


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