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Protesters urge senators to block Supreme Court nomination

RICHMOND, Va. – Clustered outside the offices of Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, more than 50 activists rallied against the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday night.

Led by representatives of progressive organizations from across Virginia, the protesters demanded that Virginia’s U.S. senators vote against confirming Gorsuch, who they say doesn’t represent their values.

Tuesday night, President Trump nominated Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge, to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated when Justice Antonin Scalia died a year ago. Since Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court has been split evenly between conservatives and liberals. If Gorsuch is confirmed by the Senate as the court’s ninth member, his presence on the bench would tip the balance of ideology toward the right, analysts say.

“He would represent a tie-breaking vote on numerous issues at a critical time in our nation’s history including several possible upcoming decisions on clean air and water, endangered species, public land use and climate action as well as women’s health, voting rights and basic protections of our civil liberties,” said Kate Addleson, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority, came to America as a refugee when she was 6 months old. She spoke at the rally about her experiences, and about Trump’s recent executive order suspending new refugee admissions for 120 days.

“President Trump’s executive order over the weekend was deemed unlawful by four federal courts. We need a Supreme Court justice who recognizes the unconstitutionality of what this man has done,” Nguyen said.

Several of the speakers criticized Gorsuch for his support of Hobby Lobby in a case that tested the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage clause, which required businesses to provide their employees access to contraceptive insurance.

Gorsuch in 2013 and the Supreme Court in 2014 sided with Hobby Lobby, which argued that the contraceptive clause violated religious freedoms.

“We cannot have a judge who thinks corporations trump people,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. “We stand here in Richmond – in the place where our religious freedom was invented, was created for our society and for societies all around the world – and we have a nominee who believes that religious freedom really means a license to discriminate.”

In response to Gorsuch’s nomination, Kaine tweeted last night, “I intend to carefully scrutinize Judge Gorsuch’s temperament and record, particularly on civil rights and other Constitutional guarantees.”

Warner released a statement that praised Gorsuch’s experience and said he looks forward to “carefully reviewing Judge Gorsuch’s qualifications before deciding whether I believe he is fit to serve on our nation’s highest court.”

A separate demonstration was held outside Warner’s D.C. office Wednesday morning by students and other concerned citizens, demanding that he vote against the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be U.S. secretary of state.

A few hours later, Warner became one of three Democratic senators to vote in favor of Tillerson’s nomination. In a statement released after the vote, Wagner said, “I believe that he will bring a more experienced, measured voice to an Administration that has so far struggled to demonstrate any rational approach to foreign policy.”

By Megan Schiffres with Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.