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The Senate confirmed judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court Friday in a mostly party-line 54-45 vote that reflected weeks of bruising political fighting which deepened congressional divides and changed the nature of high court appointments in the future.
Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first major court nominee, will fill the seat that has been vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February of 2016. He will be officially sworn in on Monday morning.
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While the final outcome was never in serious doubt, the confirmation process became a bitter battle in the Senate, one that had as much to do with partisan grudges as the nominee himself. When Democrats blocked the nomination on Thursday with a procedural filibuster, Republicans responded by making a dramatic and historic change in the Senate rules to allow Gorsuch and all future Supreme Court nominees to pass through the Senate with a simple 51-vote majority instead of the previous 60-vote threshold.
Since Trump nominated Gorsuch in January, Republicans have praised the 10th circuit court of appeals judge as a mainstream jurist qualified to sit on the high court.
Democrats, meanwhile, raised concerns about Gorsuch's ideology, pointing to cases where he sided with corporations over individuals. They also expressed concern over how he might rule on abortion cases, including any challenge to Roe v. Wade.
Democratic opposition to Gorsuch was also fueled by anger over Republicans' blockade of President Barack Obama's nominee Merrick Garland to replace Scalia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider Garland's nomination in the last Congressional session, citing the election-year politics.
Only three Democrats voted for Gorsuch: Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. All three are facing difficult re-election prospects in 2018. They hail from states that Trump won.
McConnell correctly bet that a Republican might win the presidency and nominate a replacement for Scalia but the move further eroded trust in the Senate and set the stage for the rules change.
“As I look back on my career, I think the most consequential decision I've ever been involved in was the decision to let the president being elected last year pick the Supreme Court nominee,” McConnell said during a news conference just before the vote.
And that change could have far-ranging impacts for the future of the court itself. Removing the previous 60-vote threshold means that the majority party has less incentive to find nominees that will garner moderate support and more ideological judges will have an easier path to confirmation in the future when one party holds both the White House and the Senate majority.
While Both Republicans and Democrats mourn a loss of collegiality, both sides — except for a few Democrats — voted along party lines to support their parties' escalation tactics.
The fight over Gorsuch engaged both political bases. Conservative groups spent millions of dollars in political advertisements targeting vulnerable Democrats, including $6.7 million by the Judicial Crisis Network. And liberal groups pressured Democrats to oppose him, even threatening to run primary candidates against Democrats who support Gorsuch.