WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate voted largely along party lines Friday to confirm Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice.
Three Democrats joined the Republican majority to confirm Gorsuch 54-45.
The court has been operating with eight justices since the sudden death in February 2016 of Justice Antonin Scalia and a protracted fight over President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
Senate Republicans refused to consider Garland’s nomination until after the November election, and Trump’s surprise win meant a conservative would succeed Scalia.
Gorsuch’s confirmation essentially continues the ideological balance that existed before Scalia’s death, with four conservatives, four liberals and Justice Anthony Kennedy as a swing vote between the blocs. At the same time, several justices are over 70 years of age, and retirement rumors surrounding Kennedy could give Trump other opportunities during his presidency to add to the conservative bloc.
“He has sterling credentials, an excellent record and an ideal judicial temperament,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “He has the independence of mind for fairness”
Vice President Mike Pence presided over the vote, but was not needed to break a tie.
Democrats consistently tried to tie Gorsuch to Trump, suggesting he won’t be independent from the President who nominated him.
“I hope Judge Gorsuch has listened to our debate here in the Senate, particularly about our concerns about the Supreme Court increasingly drifting towards becoming a more pro-corporate court that favors employers, corporations and special interests over working Americans,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. “So we are charging Judge Gorsuch to be the independent and fair-minded justice that America badly needs. If he is instead a justice for the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, that will spell trouble for America.”
During his Senate hearings last month, Gorsuch sought to address those attacks head-on, insisting he “doesn’t give a whit” about politics, and that he treats his plaintiffs fairly.
Democrats eventually staged a filibuster of Gorsuch this week, leading Senate Republicans triggered the so-called “nuclear option.” The move changed Senate rules to allow them to break the filibuster with only 51 votes rather than the traditional 60, something senators on both sides of the aisle said could change the chamber’s role in the political sphere.
But despite the opposition to Gorsuch, his confirmation was never seriously in doubt and he flew remarkably under the radar.
After Trump nominated Gorsuch on January 31, he essentially enjoyed a stealth confirmation process, as near daily stories from the White House overshadowed the fight. Democrats were often drowned out and distracted by issues ranging from the investigation over Russia’s activities in the 2016 presidential election to the March effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.