Democrats' best hope to stall Trump's next Supreme Court justice just collapsed

Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty ImagesJeff Flake.
  • Democrats’ best hope of blocking President Donald Trump’s upcoming Supreme Court nomination just fizzled out.
  • Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he wouldn’t block Trump’s nominee from getting out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • Flake had blocked lower-court nominees in hopes of getting a Senate vote on curtailing Trump’s tariff powers.

Democrats’ best hope of blocking President Donald Trump’s upcoming Supreme Court nomination just fizzled out.

On Thursday, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he would not try to block Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who on Wednesday announced his retirement from the high court, in exchange for a vote on curtailing Trump’s tariff powers.

The retiring senator and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee told The Arizona Republic that he would evaluate Trump’s eventual pick to replace Kennedy separately from his threat to block Trump’s judicial nominees for district and circuit courts from moving out of the committee. Flake has already stalled some nominations by withholding his support on the committee so as to pressure Republicans to vote on Trump’s controversial tariffs, which Flake and many other Republicans staunchly oppose.

“My goal here is not to block judges,” Flake said. “My goal is to get a vote on tariffs, and I have all the leverage I need with circuit court nominees.”

He added: “I certainly wasn’t anticipating a Supreme Court vacancy, but it’s unaffected.”

Flake could unilaterally block any judicial nominee from advancing beyond the Senate Judiciary Committee by voting with the Democrats in opposition. If Flake joined the Democrats, and the Democrats were unanimously opposed to Trump’s nominee, the vote would be 10 to 11, assuming all other Republicans voted in favour of Trump’s choice. The Judiciary Committee does not have any Democrats who look as if they may jump ship and vote with Republicans on Trump’s nominee.

With Flake now seeming to take that option off the table, Republicans would hold an 11 to 10 advantage. Flake told The Arizona Republic he would make a determination on voting for Trump’s nominee after reviewing the pick.

After blocking a circuit court nominee from Georgia earlier this month, Flake told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that he planned to block appellate court judges in exchange for a Senate vote on reining in Trump’s tariff powers.

“I think myself and a number of senators, at least a few of us will stand up and say, ‘Let’s not move any more judges until we get a vote, for example, on tariffs,'” Flake said.

Democrats had focused on Flake as their best hope to stall Trump’s Supreme Court pick. As they’re in the minority party, Democrats do not have any tools to unilaterally block a Trump nominee, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last year eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court picks.

“The most important person in this entire debate is Jeff Flake,” Bakari Sellers, a former Democratic state representative in South Carolina who’s now a CNN commentator, said on Wednesday on the network.

“Listen: Jeff Flake, that’s where we need to focus our efforts,” he added. “In Arizona, focusing on Jeff Flake, who has nothing to lose. And if he wants to have some testicular fortitude and stand up to Trump, we can have a justice who represents the United States of America.”

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