On Thursday April 6, the Senate voted 55-45 to proceed to a final vote on Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to serve as an associate justice on the Supreme Court. All Republicans and three Democrats voted in favor of advancing the nomination of the 49-year-old judge from the Denver-based 10th Circuit of Appeals. If Gorsuch is confirmed, he will replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia who passed away in February 2016, leaving a vacancy on the court for over a year.
The three Democrats who voted in favor of advancing to a final vote included Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, all from predominantly Red States which went for Donald Trump in the presidential election last November.
Gorsuch’s nomination to the highest court in the land is advancing now that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has invoked what is referred to as the ‘nuclear option’ which allows the Senate to allow confirmation of the Supreme Court nominee based on a simple majority of 51 votes instead of the 60-vote requirement which was previously in place. The process involved a procedural vote to change precedent to allow confirmation by a simple majority. The change in precedent was approved 52-48.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) who has been protesting the deployment of the nuclear option for weeks commented, “Just as it seemed unthinkable decades ago that we would change the rules for nominees, today’s vote is a cautionary tale about how unbridled partisan escalation can overwhelm our basic inclination to work together and and frustrate our efforts to pull back, blocking us from steering the ship of the Senate away from the rocks.”
“There’s a reason it was dubbed the nuclear option,” he added.
Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon who protested closing debate on Gorsuch for over 13 hours earlier this week tweeted, “The dark deed is done. McConnell has just put a knife into the heart of our We the People republic.”
Ironically, it was the former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who first instituted the simple majority rule back in 2013 to approve executive branch and lower court nominations. Democrats make the case that simple majority should not be used for lifetime appointments. They also advance the narrative that employing a simple majority vote for appointments could lead to a slippery slope where legislation is passed through without the opportunity for filibuster from the minority party.
McConnell dismisses the idea that the legislative filibuster will be eliminated during his tenure as Senate Majority Leader. Saying that there is “no sentiment” among Senate Republicans for getting rid of it despite the fact that the Democrats are the ones presently benefiting from this tool.
Many political analysts maintain that the Democrats are squandering their political capital by opposing the Gorsuch nomination. After all Gorsuch, who holds an “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution, is replacing Scalia, also an “originalist.” Wouldn’t the Democrats be better served by waiting until there is another vacancy on the court to put forth a liberal leaning candidate? After all, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 84 years old, Justice Anthony Kennedy is 81, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 79. There more than likely will be at least one other Supreme Court vacancy within the next four years.
The final Senate vote for the Gorsuch confimation is likely to take place Friday evening.
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