The Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court Friday, after a bitter partisan clash that culminated with Republicans unilaterally eliminating the 60-vote filibuster for high court nominees.
The 54-45 vote came 24 hours after a tense series of votes in which Democrats filibustered Gorsuch and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked the “nuclear option” to allow confirmation of Supreme Court nominees with a simple majority. Three Democrats joined every Republican in supporting the conservative judge from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Kentucky Republican made no apologies Friday for his historic, hardball play.
“This business of filibustering judges was a creation of Sen. [Chuck] Schumer," McConnell told reporters, adding that he remains opposed to ending the filibuster for legislation, which would be "what fundamentally changes the Senate."
Gorsuch, who’s expected to be sworn in as soon as Monday, will bring the Supreme Court to its full complement of nine justices for the first time since the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Republicans refused to give a hearing or vote to Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, leaving raw feelings among Democrats. That anger, along with Democrats’ complaints of Gorsuch’s evasiveness during his confirmation hearing and pressure from the liberal base, propelled this week’s filibuster.
Despite the partisan blockade of the Colorado-born Gorsuch and concern about the consequences to the Senate as an institution, his confirmation gives Senate Republicans a tangible achievement to promote during a two-week recess that starts Friday.
It’s a much-needed win for President Donald Trump and the GOP, which could help Republicans sidestep criticism from constituents about the party’s failure to repeal Obamacare after pledging to do so for seven years.
For Democrats, Gorsuch’s confirmation is a defeat that nonetheless galvanizes their liberal base, an undeniable upside ahead of next year’s midterm elections. The liberal groups that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads pressing Democrats to filibuster turned their fire on moderate Republicans this week, reaching for a political victory even though they could not stop Gorsuch from joining the high court.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had urged McConnell against ripping up the Supreme Court filibuster, continued to decry the move on Friday.
“They had many options and they chose, unfortunately, the nuclear option,” he said. “I believe it will make this body a more partisan place. It will make the cooling saucer of the Senate considerably hotter, and I believe it will make the Supreme Court a more partisan place.”
But Republicans were resolute in their intention to quash a Democratic filibuster; even moderate GOP senators saw as the blockade as an example of unconscionably partisan resistance to a nominee that received the American Bar Association’s highest rating.
And while some Republicans lamented the change to Senate precedent, they were united in their decision to put Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, one way or another.
“This brilliant, honest, humble man is a judge’s judge,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley. “And he will make a superb Justice.”