Senate Republicans voted Thursday to invoke the “nuclear option,” ending the filibuster for Supreme Court picks and clearing the way for the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch on Friday.
On a party-line vote, all 52 Republicans voted to change the Senate rules to allow confirmation of Supreme Court justices on a simple majority vote. All 46 Democrats, and two independents, voted no.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had promised that Gorsuch would be confirmed one way or the other, but urged Democrats not to filibuster the nominee.
The seat became vacant in February 2016 with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Democrats, still resentful that Judge Merrick Garland was not afforded a hearing last year, rallied together to filibuster President Donald Trump’s nominee.
Only three Democrats defected and joined with Republicans on a vote to invoke cloture earlier Thursday, leaving Republicans five votes shy of the 60 votes needed to end the debate.
As promised, Republicans then took the party-line vote to eliminate the filibuster.
The essential end of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees was not a surprise, but it triggered consternation that the partisanship that has infected the Senate will only worsen. Without the need for 60 votes, Trump or any future administration may not feel compelled to select a more moderate nominee to draw wider support.
But in the eyes of many Democrats, Gorsuch already is far to the right of the American mainstream, and may prove to be even more conservative than Scalia. Gorsuch’s opinions have suggested that he wants to revisit the idea of judicial deference to administrative agencies tasked with carrying out Congressional mandates. That could change the way the high court decides on major cases involving the environment, civil rights and communications.
Reaction was swift among progressive groups.
Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement, “History will not look kindly upon these senators, when a of lack of courage and thirst for power led the GOP to destroy 200 years of Senate tradition and forever degrade our democracy. The country will never forget that these Republicans blindly enabled a reckless president under gathering clouds of investigation to steal a seat on the Supreme Court and enshrine his dangerous agenda for a lifetime.”