WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Senate Republicans today crushed a Democratic blockade of President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee in a fierce partisan brawl, approving a rule change dubbed the “nuclear option” to allow for conservative judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation by Friday.
With ideological control of the nation’s highest court at stake, the Republican-led Senate voted 52-48 along party lines to change its long-standing rules in order to prohibit a procedural tactic called a filibuster against Supreme Court nominees. That came after Republicans failed by a 55-45 tally to muster the 60-vote super-majority needed to end the Democratic filibuster that had sought to deny Gorsuch confirmation to the lifetime post.
The Senate paved the way for senators to confirm Gorsuch by simple majority. Republicans control the Senate 52-48. The rule change has been dubbed the “nuclear option” because it has been considered an extreme break with Senate traditions, and Trump has encouraged McConnell to “go nuclear.”
“This will be the first and last partisan filibuster of the Supreme Court,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor, accusing Democrats of trying to inflict political damage on Trump and to keep more conservatives from joining the high court.
“In 20 or 30 or 40 years, we will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court, a day when we irrevocably moved further away from the principles our founders intended for these institutions: principles of bipartisanship, moderation and consensus,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor.
Schumer ridiculed McConnell’s contention that the Democratic action was unprecedented, noting that the Republican-led Senate last year refused to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nomination of appellate judge Merrick Garland for the same high court seat that Trump elected Gorsuch to fill.
Senate confirmation of Gorsuch, 49, would restore the nine-seat court’s 5-4 conservative majority, enable Trump to leave an indelible mark on America’s highest judicial body and fulfill a top campaign promise by the Republican president. Gorsuch could be expected to serve for decades.
The court’s ideological leaning could help determine the outcome of cases involving the death penalty, abortion, gun control, environmental regulations, transgender rights, voting rights, immigration, religious liberty, presidential powers and more.
The nine-seat Supreme Court has had a vacancy since conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016.
Republicans have called Gorsuch superbly qualified and one of the most distinguished appellate judges on the bench, and they blamed the Democrats for politicizing the confirmation process.
Democrats accused Gorsuch of being so conservative as to be outside the judicial mainstream, favoring corporate interests over ordinary Americans in legal opinions, and displaying insufficient independence from Trump.
“This isn’t really about the nominee anyway,” McConnell said. “The opposition to this particular nominee is more about the man who nominated him and the party he represents than the nominee himself.”
What Republicans did to Obama’s nominee Garland was worse than a filibuster, Schumer said. Schumer said Republicans denied “the constitutional prerogative of a president with 11 months left in his term.”