Washington, D.C. -U.S. Senator Susan Collins spoke from the Senate Floor this morning to express her support for the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court:
"Mr. President, confirming a Supreme Court nominee is one of the Senate’s most significant constitutional responsibilities. I come to the floor today to announce that I shall cast my vote for Judge Neil Gorsuch to be a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. In making my decision, I evaluated Judge Gorsuch’s qualifications, experience, integrity, and temperament. I questioned him for more than an hour in a meeting in my office, evaluated his record, spoke with people who knew him personally, and reviewed the Judiciary Committee’s extensive hearing record. While I have not agreed with every decision that Judge Gorsuch has made, my conclusion is that he is eminently well-qualified to serve on our nation’s highest court.
"Judge Gorsuch has sterling academic and legal credentials. In 2006, the Senate confirmed this outstanding nominee by voice vote to his current position on the U.S. Court of Appeals. A roll call vote was neither requested nor required.
"Judge Gorsuch’s ability as a legal scholar and judge has earned him the respect of members of the bar. The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has unanimously given him its highest possible rating of “well-qualified.” President Obama’s former acting solicitor general testified before the Judiciary Committee in support of Judge Gorsuch, praising him as fair, decent, and committed to judicial independence.
"I have also received a letter signed by 49 prominent Maine attorneys with diverse political views urging support for Judge Gorsuch’s nomination. They wrote:
"Judge Gorsuch’s judicial record demonstrates his remarkable intelligence, his keen ability to discern and resolve the central issues at dispute in a legal proceeding, and his dedication to the rule of law rather than personal predilections. His judicial record also confirms that he is committed to upholding the Constitution, enforcing the statutes enacted by Congress, and restraining overreach by the Executive Branch.
"Mr. President, in my view, these are precisely the qualities that a Supreme Court Justice should embody. I would ask unanimous consent to insert this letter into the record following my remarks.
"Our personal discussion allowed me to assess the judge’s philosophy and character. I told him that it was important to me that the judiciary remain the independent check on the other two branches of government as envisioned by our Founders. Therefore, I asked him specifically whether anyone in the Administration had asked him how he would rule or sought any commitment from him on any issue. He was unequivocal that no one in the Administration had asked him for such promises or to prejudge any issue that could come before him. He went on to say that the day a nominee answered how he would rule on a matter before it was heard, or promised to overturn a legal precedent, that would be the end of an independent judiciary.
"During the Judiciary Committee hearings, when Senator Lindsey Graham asked him a similar question about whether he was asked to make commitments about particular cases or precedents, he gave the same answer. In fact, Judge Gorsuch notably said that if someone had asked for such a commitment, he would have left the room because it would never be appropriate for a judge to make such a commitment, whether asked to do so by the White House or a United States Senator.
"Neil Gorsuch is not a judge who brings his personal views on any policy issues into the courtroom. If it can be said that Judge Gorsuch would bring a philosophy to the Supreme Court, it would be his respect for the rule of law, and his belief that no one is above the law, including any President or any Senator.
"I am convinced that Judge Gorsuch does not rule according to his personal views, but rather he follows the facts and the law where they lead him – even if he personally is unhappy with the result. To paraphrase his answer to one of my questions about putting aside his personal views, he said that a judge who is happy with all of his rulings is likely not a good judge.
"The reverence that Judge Gorsuch holds for the separation of powers, which is at the core of our American democracy, was also evident in our discussion. As he reiterated throughout his confirmation hearings, the duty to write the laws lies with Congress, not with the courts and not with the executive branch. Members of this body should welcome his deep respect for that fundamental principle.
"Judge Gorsuch’s record demonstrates that he is well within the mainstream of judicial thought. He has joined in more than 2,700 opinions, 97 percent of which were unanimously decided, and he sided with the majority 99 percent of the time.
"I asked Judge Gorsuch how he approaches legal precedents. I asked him if it would be sufficient to overturn a long-established precedent if five current justices believed that a previous decision was wrongly decided. He responded: “emphatically no.” And that, to me, is the right approach. He said a good judge always starts with precedent and presumes that the precedent is correct. During his Judiciary Committee hearing, Judge Gorsuch described precedent as “the anchor of the law” and “the starting place for a judge.” He has also co-authored a book on legal precedent with 12 other distinguished judges, for which Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the introduction.
"There has been considerable discussion over the course of this nomination process about the proper role of the courts in our Constitutional system of government. It is also important, Mr. President, to consider the roles that the Executive and Legislative branches play in the nomination process.
"Under the Constitution, the President has wide discretion when it comes to his nominations to the Supreme Court. The Senate’s role is not to ask, “Is this the person whom I would have chosen to sit on the bench?” Rather, the Senate is charged with evaluating each nominee’s qualifications for serving on the Court.
"I have heard opponents of this nominee criticize him for a variety of reasons including his methodology and charges that he is somehow “extreme,” or “outside of the mainstream.” But I have not heard one Senator suggest that Judge Gorsuch lacks the intellectual ability, academic credentials, integrity, temperament, or experience to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
"Yet it is exactly those characteristics that the Senate should be evaluating when exercising its advice and consent duty. This is especially true when Senators contemplate taking the extreme step of filibustering a Supreme Court nomination.
"Mr. President, as you well know, unfortunately, it has become Senate practice of late to filibuster almost every question before this body simply as a matter of course. But that would be a serious mistake in this case, and it would further erode the ability of this great institution to function.
"In 2005, when the Senate was mired in debate over how to proceed on judicial nominations, a bipartisan group of 14 Senators proposed a simple and reasonable standard. That group, of which I was proud to have been a part, declared that for federal court nominations, a Senator should only support a filibuster in the case of “extraordinary circumstances.”
"Since coming to the Senate, I have voted to confirm four justices to the Supreme Court, two nominated by a Democratic president and two nominated by a Republican president. Each was confirmed: Chief Justice Roberts by a vote of 78-22; Justice Alito by a vote of 58-42; Justice Sotomayor by a vote of 68-31; and Justice Kagan by a vote of 63-37. Before I became a Senator, this body confirmed Justice Kennedy 97-0; Justice Scalia 98-0; Justice Thomas 52-48; Justice Ginsberg 96-3; and Justice Breyer 87-9. Note that two of the current members of the Supreme Court were confirmed by fewer than 60 votes, but – consistent with the standard that we established in 2005 – neither one was filibustered.
"Even Robert Bork, whose contentious confirmation hearings are said to have been the turning point in the Senate’s treatment of Supreme Court nominations, was rejected by a simple failure to secure a majority of votes, 42 ayes to 58 nays, not by a Senate filibuster.
"In fact, Mr. President, the filibuster has been used successfully only once in modern history to block a Supreme Court nomination. That was the attempt to elevate Justice Abe Fortas to be Chief Justice in 1968, nearly half a century ago. In that case, Justice Fortas ended up withdrawing under an ethical cloud.
"The results of the votes on Justice Alito’s nomination are also illuminating. In 2006, Senators voted to invoke cloture by a vote of 72-25. That’s considerably more Senators than those who ultimately voted to confirm him, which was accomplished by a vote of 58-42. Here again, Senators proceeded to a yes-or-no vote on the nomination.
"Now let me be clear: I do believe strongly that it is appropriate for the Senate to use its advice and consent power to examine nominees carefully, or even to defeat them. In fact, I have voted against judicial nominees of three Presidents. But playing politics with judicial nominees is profoundly damaging to the Senate’s reputation and stature. It politicizes our judicial nomination process and threatens the independence of our courts, which are supposed to be above partisan politics. Perhaps most important, it undermines the public’s confidence in our judiciary.
"Since the Founders protected against the exertion of political influence on sitting justices, the temptation to do everything in one’s power to pick nominees with the “right” views is understandably very strong. But the more political Supreme Court appointments become, the more likely it is that Americans will question the extent to which the rule of law is being followed. It erodes confidence in the fair and impartial system of justice and cultivates a suspicion that judges are imposing their personal ideology. The Senate has the responsibility to safeguard our nation against a politicized judiciary.
"Mr. President, the Senate should resist the temptation to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee who is unquestionably qualified; the temptation to abandon the traditions of comity and cooperation; the temptation to further erode the separation of powers by insisting on judicial litmus tests. It’s time for the Senate to rise above partisanship and allow each and every Senator to cast an up-or-down vote on this nominee.
"This nomination deserves to move forward. As the dozens of distinguished Maine attorneys who wrote to me in support of his nomination said: “In sum, during his tenure on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Judge Gorsuch distinguished himself as a judge who follows the law with no regard for politics or outside influence. We could not ask for more in an Associate Justice….” Mr. President, I agree, and I look forward to the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be a Justice of the United States Supreme Court."