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After ‘going nuclear,’ Senate confirms Neil Gorsuch to Supreme Court

FILE - In this March 22, 2017 file photo, Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court on Friday, a day after exercising the option to “go nuclear” and change the way in which justices are approved.

The “nuclear” option eliminated the 60-vote filibuster for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and future court picks. The move came Thursday on a procedural motion to reduce the vote to a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.

McConnell accused Democrats of forcing his hand by trying to filibuster a highly qualified nominee in Gorsuch, 49, a 10-year veteran of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver with a consistently conservative record. McConnell vowed that the rules change would block the Gorsuch filibuster, and all future ones, a change many lawmakers lamented could lead to an even more polarized Senate, court and country.

“This will be the first, and last, partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee,” McConnell insisted Thursday. “This is the latest escalation in the left’s never-ending judicial war, the most audacious yet, and it cannot and will not stand.”

Supreme Court filibusters have been nearly unheard of in the Senate, but the confrontation came amid an explosive political atmosphere with liberal Democrats furious over the Trump presidency and Republicans desperate to get a win after months of chaos from Trump.

Democrats remain livid over McConnell’s decision last year to deny consideration to then-President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, who was ignored for nearly a year by Senate Republicans after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Instead, McConnell kept Scalia’s seat open, a calculation that is now paying off hugely for Republicans and Trump, who will be able to claim the biggest victory of his presidency to date if Gorsuch is confirmed as expected.

“We believe that what Republicans did to Merrick Garland was worse than a filibuster,” declared Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, on Thursday. “We didn’t hear two words in the long speech of Senator McConnell: Merrick Garland.”

Senators on both sides of the aisle lamented the trajectory they were on toward the Senate rules change, though they themselves were in position to prevent it from happening and failed to do so.

“I fear that someday we will regret what we are about to do. In fact, I am confident we will,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “It is imperative we have a functioning Senate where the rights of the minority are protected regardless of which party is in power at the time.”

Nonetheless, McCain was prepared to vote with McConnell on the rules change, saying he felt he had no choice.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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