Republicans Resort to 'Nuclear Option' in Gorsuch Confirmation. What Does that Mean?

On 6 April 2017, Republicans in the U.S. Senate cleared the way for confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court despite Democratic opposition by invoking the so-called "nuclear option", a parliamentary procedure allowing Senate rules to be changed so a matter can be decided by a simple majority vote. McConnell, R-Ky., immediately responded, as expected, by leading his Republicans in a unilateral rules change to lower the vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees from 60 to a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.

Gorsuch's confirmation Friday was preceded by a Senate floor showdown Thursday in which Democrats initially mounted a filibuster, denying Gorsuch the 60 votes needed to proceed.

Gorsuch fills the seat vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February of 2016.

The drama stretched back almost a year after GOP senators wouldn't consider former President Barack Obama's pick, Merrick Garland, citing a unwritten rule that presidents in their final year don't nominate justices.

"Serving on the U.S. Supreme Court requires more than education and experience, and I am extremely concerned that Judge Gorsuch's judicial approach is out of step with mainstream American values", he continued.

Durbin, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee that vetted Gorsuch, opposed him in a party-line committee vote Monday.

Gorsuch's confirmation tips the court's balance back in conservatives' favor.

His path to confirmation was relatively short by modern standards - just 65 days. Many Republicans bemoaned reaching that point, too, but they blamed Democrats for pushing them to it. Gorsuch was on a list of potential justices recommended by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation during the campaign, and some Republicans even credit the Supreme Court vacancy as one reason Trump won the November election. There is no way to know how many there will be, if any, but several justices are quite elderly.

In another one, the court would be tasked with deciding whether to revive voter-identification and other restrictions in North Carolina that had been blocked by a lower court.

The Democrats noted that even as they abolished the filibuster for executive and lower court nominations in 2013, they left it in place for Supreme Court nominations, believing that lifetime appointments to the nation's highest court are different.

Some Republicans, like Sen.

The remaining question is whether Republicans will seek, by majority vote, to abolish the filibuster as it applies to legislation.

"This will be the first and last partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nomination", McConnell vowed ahead of Thursday's votes. Orrin Hatch of Utah poured cold water on that idea. "If we do that, then the Senate will become like the House".

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico said there are plans afoot among a bipartisan group of senators to organize a private meeting in the Old Supreme Court Chamber, located in the Capitol, later this year.

The goal, he said, is to see if senators can figure out a way to promote more bipartisanship in a body where the two parties barely work together at all anymore.

  • Annette Adams