After a Senate fight and a Democratic filibuster that led the Republicans to go with the "nuclear option" Judge Neil Gorsuch has been confirmed as the 113th U.S. Supreme Court justice, taking the seat that has been vacant for more than a year since esteemed conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died.
In a largely party line vote of 54-45, President Donald Trump's pick was confirmed, with the help of enthusiastic votes of approval from Texas senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, who have both been strong backers of Gorsuch's nomination.
Gorsuch is a conservative, of course, but one who has the reputation of having a libertarian bent to his decisions and is well regarded by his colleagues. And he certainly has the biography of a Supreme Court justice. He's the son of a Reagan cabinet member, went to Harvard and Oxford, clerked for two Supreme Court justices, did a stint in the Justice Department and then worked for a decade on the federal bench.
His hearings went off without much of a hitch, but the Democrats had made it clear early on they were going to take some sort of stand to prevent Gorsuch from sailing through the nomination process since the Republican-held Congress refused to even allow President Obama's Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, to be voted on.
Once Gorsuch's hearings were done, Democrats refused to confirm him. So the Republicans went nuclear. Instead of insisting on a consensus nominee who could garner 60 votes in the Senate, Majority Leader McConnell orchestrated a vote to change Senate rules so that Gorsuch could be confirmed with a simple majority.
The move has alarmed many since now there's a precedent for going around the opposition and simply forcing your nominee through the confirmation process, meaning the party in control will no longer have as much incentive to cater to what the opposition wants and pick a more moderate candidate. Both sides blame each other for forcing the Senate to take this route to get the confirmation.
Thus, the court will still be split between the liberal faction of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer on one side while it is expected that Gorsuch will join Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas on the right, that will leave Justice Anthony Kennedy as the resident swing vote. One unexpected death or retirement on the left could send the entire court skewing to the right, assuming Gorsuch ends up being exactly the sort of justice that he is expected to be.
Meanwhile, Republicans are professing to be thrilled with his confirmation, partly because they believe he is going to be as conservative as Scalia was, if not more so.
While Gorsuch didn't have a ton of opinions to sift through — typical of Supreme Court nominees ever since the Robert Bork hearings went infamously off the rails in the 1980s — his jurisprudence is similar to Scalia's. Gorsuch raises an eyebrow to overreaching federal prosecution; he doesn't like it when anyone pushes the legal statutes to try to punish people more than befits the crime.
Gorsuch has never written an opinion on Roe vs. Wade. He is considered pro-life, but he has also been accused of not being pro-life enough, and overall his views on abortion are not well defined. Court watchers have interpreted the most delicate inflections in his writings and statement and decisions, all scrutinized during his confirmation hearings, to mean that he is not likely to end up voting pro-choice.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
However, it won't really be clear what sort of jurist Gorsuch will be on the high court — there's always the chance he'll end up being another David Souter — until he starts voting and penning decisions.
Pro-choice supporters responded sharply to his confirmation. "We have serious concerns that as a Supreme Court Justice, Gorsuch will continue his record of undermining reproductive freedom," Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Foundation says in a statement issued on Friday morning. "His hostility to Roe v. Wade poses a threat to women’s health and safety and women’s ability to access safe, legal abortion care."
And on the other side, Cornyn immediately issued a statement celebrating Gorsuch's confirmation to the high court. "He is, in short, a distinguished jurist with an impeccable legal and academic record,” Cornyn said.
Cruz chimed in with a statement crowing about the implications of Gorsuch's place on the court being secured. “Today’s Senate vote was a historic one. Ten, 20, 30 years from now, this vote will still be having an ongoing impact on the liberty and constitutional rights of millions of Americans," Cruz said. "Despite an unprecedented Democratic filibuster, today is a day that the Republican majority kept its promise to protect our fundamental rights, to protect free speech, to protect religious liberty, and to protect the Second Amendment. Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation is a critical step to defend the long-term liberty of millions of Americans, and for that reason, today is a day to celebrate.”