Sen. Hirono On Support For Democratic Filibuster On Gorsuch Nomination

NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, a member of the Judiciary Committee, about why she voted against Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court and why she supports a Democratic filibuster.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now we turn to Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Today she voted against sending Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court to the full Senate. And Senator Hirono says she'll support a filibuster of the confirmation vote, a filibuster that will likely trigger a historic rules change. Senator Hirono, welcome to the program.

MAZIE HIRONO: Aloha. Good to be here.

SIEGEL: Can you tell us what persuaded you to support a filibuster?

HIRONO: I think any Supreme Court nominee should have more than the bare minimum of 51 votes in order to get onto the Supreme Court, which is a lifetime appointment. And it is very important for us to try to figure out what the nominee's judicial philosophy is because notice, we have a lot of very important 5 to 4 decisions. That shows that judges don't just sit there like automatons and apply precedent. The Supreme Court is the one court that can set precedent. So we tried to get that from Judge Gorsuch to no avail.

SIEGEL: But isn't it most likely that the result of a filibuster - and then what they call the nuclear option, the change of Senate rules - that will mean that from here on in, Supreme Court justices will only need 51 votes to be confirmed? We can assume that's always going to be the case.

HIRONO: That would be an unfortunate result. And nobody is forcing McConnell to go that route. But he is a very determined person, and he wants what he wants. And he's the person who unilaterally also said that there will be no hearing for Merrick Garland. That was unprecedented.

SIEGEL: Of course, Republicans say that Senator Harry Reid, when he was leading the Democrats, also decided to have judges approved without a right to filibuster, and therefore that the Democrats have been involved in this process as much as the Republicans.

HIRONO: Well, I must say the Republicans are really great at pointing fingers. And we're not the ones who said unilaterally that there will be absolutely no process for Judge Garland.

SIEGEL: But in taking part in the filibuster, do you have any reasonable expectation that Judge Gorsuch will not be confirmed? Or do you do so as an act of protest, assuming that in the end he will be confirmed?

HIRONO: You know, I believe in fighting the fights that need to be fought, not just the ones that we can win. So regardless, I really don't know. Maybe some people will change their minds.

SIEGEL: But you're saying this qualifies as a fight that at the moment it would appear you're not going to win, but it's still worth fighting.

HIRONO: I believe in fighting those fights that are worth fighting. That's always been my perspective. And it's not going to stop now (laughter).

SIEGEL: But just to be clear, Senator Hirono, what do you say to someone who might sympathize with your view of Judge Gorsuch but who would say the filibuster is going to be merely symbolic, a symbolic act of protest? The consequences of it, the loss of the ability to filibuster, will be real and will harm the institution.

HIRONO: Well, that certainly will not be the case with regard to other procedural votes that we take with regard to the laws that we are passing. They - those still require 60 votes in order to attain cloture.

SIEGEL: But why shouldn't - why shouldn't those constraints all fall by the wayside?

HIRONO: Because this is the Senate, not the House. It's not just majority rule. There need to be more checks and balances. Things should take longer. Things should require more consensus, which is one of the reasons that - it is because of the 60-vote requirement that requires us to talk to each other, to be much more attuned to other perspectives.

SIEGEL: I want you to comment on what was said by one of your other Democratic colleagues, Heidi Heitkamp. She says she will vote for Gorsuch and will not support the filibuster because even though she doesn't like the way the Republicans treated Merrick Garland, two wrongs don't make a right. What's the matter with that reasoning?

HIRONO: I don't view this as two wrongs making a right. I'm taking a very principled position with regard to Justice Gorsuch because he is not the person who is going to represent minority interests, which is what he said Article III courts are supposed to do. I respect Heidi. I view her as a sister. She is making her own decisions, and I believe that they are also very principled decisions.

You know, really smart people and good-hearted people are on both sides of this issue. And people are making their decisions on the basis of what their hearts tell them to do, what their hearts and minds tell them to do. And that's what I'm doing.

SIEGEL: Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thank you very much for talking with us.

HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha.