Politics

Schumer Calls Progressive Supreme Court His 'Number One Goal'

New York Democrat says he 'will make it happen' as majority leader

New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer calls a progressive court "imperative." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Charles E. Schumer is making it no secret that he's preparing to do what's necessary to make sure the Supreme Court tilts to the left next year.

"My number one goal, should I become majority leader with your help, is to get a progressive Supreme Court," the New York Democrat told a policy conference hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network Wednesday morning.

"A progressive majority on the Supreme Court is an imperative, and if I become majority leader, I will make it happen," Schumer said. "I will make it happen."

Since the 2016 Senate electoral map would likely only yield Democrats a narrow majority under the most optimistic circumstances, the comments are an early indication that Schumer could be open to making procedural changes to enable confirmation of a more outwardly progressive Supreme Court nominee.

Under current precedents, Supreme Court nominations still require 60 votes to overcome filibuster threats, since they were not included in the changes pushed through in November 2013 by Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"This community knows better than any other how important the progressive Supreme Court is," Schumer told the African-American audience.

[Supreme Court Nomination Set to Break Record for Inaction]

"When the Congress turned its back on this community — Democrats and Republicans — there was only one group that stood firm, and that was the U.S. Supreme Court," Schumer said. 

The office building where Schumer spoke was named for Richard Russell, a Georgia Democrat and leading opponent of civil rights.

Outside the Supreme Court, a separate group of Senate Democrats joined by former clerks to current nominee Merrick Garland, made another push in front of a group of reporters and television cameras, calling on Senate Republicans to act on the long-stalled nomination.

President Barack Obama nominated Garland, chief judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in March to fill the high court vacancy created by the death of late Justice Antonin Scalia. But Senate Republicans have vowed to not hold hearings or a vote until after the November elections.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Tuesday that he was going to invoke a provision in the Senate's rules to curtail the amount of committee business that may take place. The move was the latest protest of the Senate GOP's agenda, and to the decision not to take up the Garland confirmation.

In an interview with The New York Times over the August recess, Reid suggested that a new Democratic majority (led by Schumer) may need to ponder further limits on filibusters.

Reid said if Republicans were to lose the majority and not change course on the use of delay tactics, "the Senate is going to have to wind up being a democracy."

During his remarks on Wednesday, Schumer criticized Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., particularly for the Supreme Court's decision to upend preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

"One of the first things he did is eviscerate the Voting Rights Act," Schumer said. "I sometimes wake up at night wondering what these Supreme Court justices are thinking."

But, he predicted that the Shelby County v. Holder decision on voting rights would be overturned by a Supreme Court with the kind of progressive justices he would prioritize confirming as majority leader.

"I know that the NAACP legal defense and all of the other funds will go right to that court and it is my belief, based on reading of the law, that the Supreme Court's decision will be reversed," Schumer said.

Contact Lesniewski at NielsLesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.

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