On the morning of April 7, 2017, the United States Senate confirmed Neil M. Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court, a decision that has caused division and tension between parties.
After the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, former president Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to succeed Scalia. With the new presidential election just around the corner and Obama’s term quickly coming to an end, many Republicans did not want to consider Garland’s nomination. They held onto hope that Donald Trump would win the presidential election, which could potentially secure a more conservative nominee for the open position of associate justice. A judicial committee hearing was refused by Republicans until after the presidential election.
The position of associate justice is a life tenure, and a justice can only be nominated by the president. The court has consisted of only eight justices since the the passing of Justice Scalia. On Jan. 31, 2017, shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, he announced Gorsuch as his nominee for the position.
Prior to the nomination, Gorsuch served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and was a former law clerk.
CNN stated that the confirmation of Gorsuch would “essentially continue the ideological balance that existed before Scalia’s death, with four conservatives, four liberals and Justice Anthony Kennedy as a swing vote.”
Gorsuch gave a speech at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 2016, pointing out pieces of late Justice Scalia’s career that he aligns himself with.
“The great project of Justice Scalia’s career was to remind us of the differences between judges and legislators,” Gorsuch said.
Gorsuch went through a confirmation hearing over a three-day period in late March in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. They questioned Gorsuch about his previous positions and past decisions he had made as a judge. Many senators asked Gorsuch about his relationship with President Trump and his opinions regarding the president’s policies and statements. Gorsuch attempted to stay on middle ground, making sure that the committee knew he believed that “no man is above the law.”
Committee members brought up Gorsuch’s past court cases and questioned his judgment on some of his final decisions. A common concern from Democrats was figuring out if Gorsuch favored big corporations over individuals. Gorsuch continued to say he is a fair judge.
On the final day of the hearings, Democrats decided to block the nomination of Gorsuch with a procedural filibuster, which is used as an obstructive tactic to prevent a nomination or a measure from being brought to a final vote.
Republicans responded by changing the rules of the Senate in order to clear the way for Gorsuch to secure the position; this is called the “nuclear option.”
The Senate rule requires nominees to receive a three-fifths majority, which comes out to at least 60 votes. Republicans pushed to have a 51-vote majority. NBC News describes the nuclear option as something that is often used as a last-resort or “break-in-case-of-emergency” way to overcome obstruction by the minority party. The last time this option was used was in 2013 by Harry Reid in an attempt to approve Executive Branch appointees. By going nuclear, the Democratic filibuster was broken and a vote was called into action.
Noah Jackson, a junior political science major, was saddened by the division that this nomination incited.
“The breakdown in the Senate is a direct result of partisan divide,” Jackson said.
He believes that it was clear what the outcome was going to be, regardless of the filibuster.
“It is discouraging that the Senate rules have to be twisted in order to get anything done. Both parties are to blame in their refusal to work with one another,” he said.
The Senate voted on April 7 and the final count was 54-45. According to CNN, the vote was mostly along party lines and only three Democrats sided with the GOP majority.
The Washington Post wrote that Gorsuch is likely to have an “immediate impact at the Supreme Court…on whether to consider expanding the breadth of the Second Amendment.”
Recent gun violence and disagreements on gun rights has been a popular case in the Supreme Court. The Washington Post went on to say that Gorsuch could “play a decisive role this spring in determining how voting rights should be protected and in a major case on the separation of church and state.”
President Trump made a statement that Gorsuch’s confirmation was “one of the most transparent and accessible in history.”
Trump also tweeted a celebratory response to the confirmation of Gorsuch: “Congratulations to an exceptionally qualified and respected judge on his confirmation to the Supreme Court!”
Gorsuch was sworn into his position on Monday, April 10, officially becoming the 113th Supreme Court justice of the United States.