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Senate confirms Neil Gorsuch to Supreme Court

Updated April 7, 2017 - 1:10 pm

WASHINGTON — Judge Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate on Friday to be the 113th justice on the U.S Supreme Court following a year of political wrangling over a seat that has been vacant for nearly 14 months.

The confirmation was all but assured after Republicans detonated the nuclear option to change Senate rules and lower the threshold for approving justices to the high court. The rule change came after a historic Democratic filibuster.

Vice President Mike Pence presided over the midday confirmation vote, which gave President Donald Trump his most high-profile legislative victory to date.

The Senate voted 54-45 for confirmation.

“The nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch of Colorado to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court is confirmed,” Pence said after votes were tallied.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Gorsuch is “going to make a fantastic addition to the court. He’s going to make the American people proud.”

In a statement, Trump said “As a deep believer in the rule of law, Judge Gorsuch will serve the American people with distinction as he continues to faithfully and vigorously defend our Constitution.”

Nevada’s two senators, Dean Heller, a Republican, and Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, split along party lines on the vote.

Cortez Masto called it an “unprecedented and disappointing day in our chamber.”

“His opinions and dissents illustrate how he narrowly interprets the law in a bubble, with no insight into how the black letter of the law works in real life and affects real people,” said Cortez Masto, a former Nevada attorney general.

Heller said he was “thrilled that a fellow Westerner who is familiar with issues that matter to us most will now serve on the Supreme Court, and I’m confident that Nevadans and generations to come are better off because of it.”

Three Democrats flip

Three Democrats up for reelection in states won by Trump voted with Republicans to confirm Gorsuch.

Those three lawmakers, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, were targeted in a $10 million ad campaign launched by the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative organization.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who is ill, did not vote.

Gorsuch, 49, could be sworn in early next week, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

A judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Gorsuch will become the 113th justice and could join the Supreme Court in the final weeks of the Spring term.

Gorsuch was nominated by Trump in January to the seat that became vacant when Justice Antonin Scalia died in Texas on Feb. 13, 2016.

McConnell told a news conference that opposition to Gorsuch was “deep depression following the election.”

Democrats were under pressure from the liberal base of their party to filibuster. And they were angry with McConnell and Republicans, who they accused of stealing the seat.

President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland from the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals for the vacancy, but he was blocked by McConnell who refused to schedule a hearing on the nomination last year.

Anger over Garland

That obstruction enraged Democrats, who launched a historic filibuster of Gorsuch.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., cited Republican actions against Garland, and Gorsuch’s conservative record on appellate cases, to lead a filibuster of the nominee.

Schumer said he hoped Gorsuch “listened to our debate” and heard our concerns about the Supreme Court drifting to the conservative right in its support of corporate interests over average Americans.

When the filibuster was successful, McConnell triggered the nuclear option that changed Senate rules to require a simple majority vote of 51 yes votes instead of a “super-majority” of 60 votes. The Senate voted along strict party lines, 52-48, to approve the rule change.

Schumer said the GOP chose to break the rules and as a result, Americans’ faith in the integrity of the Supreme Court and their trust in impartiality of the law will suffer.

Democrats changed the Senate rules related to a filibuster in 2013, when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., triggered the nuclear option to break Republican opposition to Obama’s judicial nominees to lower courts.

Reid told the Review-Journal last year that he did not regret the change, noting that it allowed Democrats to seat judges on lower courts and confirm Obama administration appointees who were tied up by GOP opposition.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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