WASHINGTON: The top US Senate Democrat on Thursday pledged a fierce partisan battle over Donald Trump's nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, saying he was unconvinced the judge would be an "independent check" on the president.
The Republican-controlled upper chamber of Congress is scheduled to vote in early April on the nomination of judge Neil Gorsuch -- who emerged from his fourth and last day of confirmation hearings in the Senate on Thursday having successfully deflected Democratic attempts to draw blood.
Nevertheless, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats will use a filibuster -- a parliamentary stalling procedure -- to prevent Republicans from bringing Gorsuch's nomination to a final vote.
"After careful deliberation, I have concluded that I cannot support judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court," he said on the Senate floor.
"My vote will be no, and I urge my colleagues to do the same."
- Unscathed by hearings -
The Republicans need 60 votes to end debate on the Gorsuch nomination in the 100-seat Senate before a final vote on his nomination.
Since Republicans have 52 seats, Gorsuch will need the support of at least eight Democrats.
His conservative backers have spent millions on campaigns to exert pressure on 10 Democratic senators facing re-election next year in states Trump won in the presidential election last November.
A backer of the death penalty along with other issues broadly popular among conservatives, the 49-year-old Gorsuch has been praised by supporters as an independent mind with an unquestioned regard for the letter of the law.
Universally acclaimed for his high credentials, he emerged from 20 hours of questioning largely unscathed by remaining silent or evasive about his personal convictions and avoiding politically fraught issues by invoking justices' need to remain independent.
Still, Schumer said Gorsuch "was unable to sufficiently convince me that he'd be an independent check" on Trump.
The judge is "not a neutral legal mind but someone with a deep-seated conservative ideology," he said.
If Gorsuch is confirmed, he would tip the US high court's balance toward conservatives, at a time when progressives are anxious over hot-button issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and the right to bear arms.
With Supreme Court justices serving lifetime appointments, Gorsuch could potentially sit on the court for three decades or even longer.
- Furious Democrats -
Some Republicans in the Senate have threatened to employ a so-called "nuclear option" of changing the Senate's rules to lower the threshold for approving Supreme Court nominees to a simple majority.
Trump has urged the Republicans to resort to that strategy if necessary.
But the delicate issue opens the future possibility that Democrats in control of the Senate at some point would also be able to confirm a Supreme Court nominee with a simple majority vote.
Democrats are still furious with Senate Republicans' refusal last year to even grant a meeting -- much less hearings or a vote -- to Merrick Garland, then-president Barack Obama's nominee to fill the seat, left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.
The White House complained about Schumer's comment on Gorsuch.
"We find Senator Schumer's announcement truly disappointing because it breaks with the tradition of how the Senate has handled Supreme Court confirmation votes in modern times and represents the type of partisanship that Americans have grown tired of," Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said.