WASHINGTON (NBC News) – The Senate confirmed judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court Friday in a mostly party-line vote that reflected weeks of bruising political fighting which deepened congressional divides and changed the nature of high court appointments in the future.
Gorsuch will fill a seat that has been vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February of 2016.
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 President Donald Trump appointed 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.
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.
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.