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Schumer the judicial warrior heads into SCOTUS battle

Chuck Schumer’s full-circle moment on judges has arrived.

The New Yorker has spent two decades as a field general in the Senate’s judicial wars, with the GOP repeatedly steamrolling him in recent years. Now, he has a golden opportunity to command and win a Supreme Court battle as Democratic leader.

As minority leader, Schumer watched Senate Republicans confirm three Supreme Court justices under former President Donald Trump following their blockade of high-court nominee Merrick Garland. Schumer desperately tried to disrupt that Garland gambit in 2016 and fought Trump’s nominees hard, just as he waged filibusters against President George W. Bush’s judicial picks. This year, though, he has a much better hand.

No matter what Republicans do, Schumer can shepherd President Joe Biden’s replacement for Justice Stephen Breyer through the Senate, as long as he keeps his 50-member caucus together. And at the moment, Senate Republicans aren’t expecting a contentious battle, given that Breyer’s replacement won’t shift the balance of the court.

But Schumer’s history on judicial confirmations, as well as his starring role in years of wrangling over lifetime appointments to the nation’s courts, offers a window into his views of the federal bench as he prepares for his most high-profile confirmation yet. Underscoring how formative Schumer’s early years on the Judiciary Committee have proven, many colleagues in both parties remember them well — though their memories diverge on key points.

Democrats recall him foreseeing a federal judiciary that was moving to the right. Republicans blame him for the increasingly partisan confirmations of circuit and district court nominees, a once-routine process in the Senate. Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said this week that when it takes the Senate a long time to approve judges, Schumer “can look back that he started this.”

Schumer, for his part, has no regrets.

“I never relished this fight, but the fight came to us,” Schumer said in a statement to WEBICNEWS. “Conservatives have been using the courts to implement their extreme and deeply unpopular agenda that they’ve been unable to get through Congress. Faced with a dark-money-funded juggernaut, we had to fight against these extreme right-wing nominees. I think the records of many of these judges have proven me right.”

Before becoming chair of the Senate Democratic campaign arm and climbing the ladder in party leadership, Schumer was especially known as a leader of the charge against Bush’s judicial nominees. Republicans still bring up Schumer’s role in the Democratic stonewalling of Miguel Estrada, Bush’s pick to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Estrada’s confirmation failed in 2003 after Senate Democrats blocked the pick, arguing they had insufficient evidence of how he would rule.

That moment made Estrada the first judicial nominee successfully filibustered by members of only one party.

Schumer “stirred up to the point where these considerations of judges now, the water is poisoned,” said Grassley. “We have all of these disputes over judges and filibusters that I’m sure he’s sorry he took us down that road. But he did that during the Bush administration, and that’s the pattern that we have.”

The New Yorker doesn’t need to show his combative side — so far — as the Senate prepares for another Supreme Court fight. Schumer has vowed that the chamber will conduct a “fair process” and move swiftly to confirm whoever Biden nominates. Democrats theoretically don’t need Republicans to confirm Biden’s pick. And despite Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján’s (N.M.) absence from a recent stroke, a Schumer spokesperson said it’s not expected to affect the timeline for the confirmation.


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