On Thursday, both the Democrats and the Republicans in the United States Senate made major headlines regarding the confirmation of federal judge Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court.
Early in the day the Democrats had enough ‘nay’ votes to filibuster the confirmation of the 49-year-old Colorado native who was picked by President Donald Trump to replace the former conservative justice Antonin Scalia who died in February 2016.
The Republicans hold a 52-46(+2) advantage in the Senate and when the Democrats unified for the most part to block the confirmation of Gorsuch, which became evident when the Republicans realized they could not overcome the 60-vote threshold needed to confirm Supreme Court justices.
Later that day, the Republicans led by Sen. Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) decided to take the ‘nuclear option’ and change the way American politics will operate in regards to confirming Supreme Court nominees.
How is this possible?
Well, the Republicans took the ‘nuclear option’ which sounds extremely serious, because it is. What is the ‘nuclear option’? The ‘nuclear option’ is making the confirmation of Supreme Court justice nominees require 51 votes from the Senate to avoid filibuster and avoid a stalemate in the confirmation itself.
The Republicans tried but were unsuccessful in getting the required 60 votes so McConnell and other members of his party were expected to change around the rules to make it easier for Supreme Court nominees to get confirmed, the same way Cabinet picks are confirmed as a comparison.
51 Republicans and four Democrats voted ‘yea’ while 44 Democrats and one Republican (interestingly it happened to be Mitch McConnell) voted ‘nay’ for the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch when the 60 votes were needed. This led the Republicans to vote on implementing the ‘nuclear option’. Unsurprisingly the vote to keep the then-current rules went 52-48 ‘nay’ as the split was completely partisan in the favor of the Republicans, therefore the ‘nuclear option’ was on track to become reality and the new precedent. The same vote (now needing 51 ‘yeas’) was cast a second time with the new rules to confirm Gorsuch also went ‘yea’ by a 55-45 split. All 52 Republicans and three Democrats voted in favor of Gorsuch.
This is not final though.
There will be a final confirmation vote on Friday and it is expected that Gorsuch will be next Supreme Court Justice giving the Republicans essentially a five-four advantage when it comes to the nation’s highest court.
This is a massive win for the Republicans to get a young, hard-line conservative on the Supreme Court as Gorsuch can decide on court cases for possibly 30 years as SCOTUS justices do not have term limits, and most retire at an old age or pass away while serving, and remember, he’s 49.
However, this is not necessarily a massive defeat for the Democrats.
Usually the minority party wins the first mid-term elections during a President’s term and the margin for the Democrats to make up to gain a majority is three seats and it is likely that 2018 will see the Democrats win the Senate and at least make up ground on the House of Representatives, if not overcome the steep Republican advantage.
In addition, if the Democrats take control of the Senate after the 2018 mid-terms, the new rules would make it easier for them to deny Supreme Court nominations from President Trump, which gives them a silver lining after a tough 2016 election, and first two and a half months of the Trump administration.