By a vote of 54-45, the Senate today confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch to be the 113th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The confirmation ended the battle over the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13, 2016. Shortly after Scalia’s death, Senate Republicans vowed to block any nominee that then-President Barack Obama put forward, arguing that the next president – rather than Obama – should have the opportunity to appoint Scalia’s successor. Obama attempted to call the Republicans’ bluff by nominating Chief Judge Merrick Garland, a widely respected judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace Scalia, but Republicans declined to hold hearings on the Garland nomination, much less bring the nomination up for a vote. That left the door open for President Donald Trump to nominate a replacement for Scalia; his nomination of Gorsuch, a 49-year-old with sterling qualifications, is widely regarded as one of the most successful moves in the young administration.
Today’s vote came as no surprise. The only real uncertainty in the process had been whether the Democrats would be able to muster the 41 votes needed to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. They did, which prompted Senate Republicans to invoke the so-called “nuclear option” – a change to the Senate rules to break the filibuster and allow a vote on the nomination with a simple majority of senators. Senate Democrats had invoked the nuclear option in 2013, to confirm several Obama nominees to the lower federal courts, but they had not changed the rules for Supreme Court nominations.
The vote broke down largely on party lines. Only three Democrats voted in favor of Gorsuch: Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. All of the Republicans present in the Senate today voted for Gorsuch; one Republican senator, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, is recovering from back surgery and did not cast a vote. All of the remaining Democrats voted against the Gorsuch nomination; they were joined by two Independents – Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The Supreme Court is currently in recess. The justices will meet for their private conference next Thursday, April 13, and they will return to the bench on Monday, April 17, for arguments. It now appears that Gorsuch will join them: a press release from the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office reports that Gorsuch will be sworn in on Monday in two separate ceremonies – a private ceremony at the court and a public ceremony at the White House. Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the ceremony at the court, and Justice Anthony Kennedy (for whom Gorsuch once clerked) will administer the oath at the White House.