Senate use 'nuclear option' to confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee

Gorsuch - and all future Supreme Court nominees - can be confirmed by a majority vote

Senate use 'nuclear option' to confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. signals a thumbs-up as he leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, after he led the GOP majority to change Senate rules and lower the vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees from 60 votes to a simple majority in order to advance Neil Gorsuch to a confirmation vote. Image: J. Scott Applewhite/AP/Press Association Images

Senate Republicans have deployed the so-called 'nuclear option' to clear the way for President Donald Trump's pick for the US supreme court.

In a dramatic rule change, Democrats in the Senate are now blocked from barring future picks with a 52-48 party-line vote called for by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. This will allow the Senate confirm Neil Gorsuch on Friday to take a court seat that Republicans refused to let President Barack Obama fill during his last year in office.

Gorsuch - and all future Supreme Court nominees - can be confirmed by a majority vote and will no longer face a 60-vote hurdle.

Senate Democrats in 2013 first changed the rules of the Senate to block Republican filibusters of presidential nominees to lower courts and to government positions, but they left the filibuster in place for Supreme Court nominees, an acknowledgement of the sacrosanct nature of the high court.

McConnell said Democrats’ move to filibuster Gorsuch is part of a “much larger story” in which the left is trying to politicise the courts and confirmations.

“It’s a fight they have waged for decades with a singular aim, securing raw power no matter the cost to the country or the institution,” McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor. “It underlies why this threatened filibuster cannot be allowed to succeed."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer argued that Gorsuch didn’t show himself to be a mainstream judge during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Far from being the kind of mainstream candidate for the Supreme Court that could earn 60 votes, he may very well turn out to be one of the most conservative justices on the bench," said Schumer of New York.

"The nuclear option means the end of a long history of consensus" on high court nominees, he said. The 60-vote requirement acts as a "guardrail" against judicial extremism, Schumer said.

For and against Gorsuch

Gorsuch, 49, has a decade of federal appeals court experience and unanimous support among Senate Republicans who say his qualifications will make him a strong addition to the court for decades to come.

Democratic critics say putting him on the court will produce more decisions favoring corporations over working-class Americans. 

Many Democrats remain furious over the treatment of Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat left vacant with the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans refused to even consider Judge Garland during the presidential election year.

Forty-four Democrats initially voted to block Gorsuch’s nomination by denying the 60 votes needed to move it forward.