Tenth US Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the US Supreme Court in the Senate on Friday, giving the high court a full complement of judges for the first time in the roughly 14 months since Justice Antonin Scalia suddenly died a year ago.
Gorsuch, who last month was grilled for more than 20 hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee, will be thrust into the middle of a Supreme Court term and could quickly find himself holding the key vote on a number of cases.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York, walks to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 6, 2017, as Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to change Senate rules to guarantee confirmation.
"The practical result of where we are now is we're back to where we were as late as 2000", said McConnell, pointing out that even Clarence Thomas got onto the court without a filibuster, despite highly contentious confirmation hearings regarding sexual harassment claims from Anita Hill.
Illustrating the importance of the moment, Vice President Mike Pence served as the Senate's presiding officer during the vote.
What can the American people expect when it comes to Gorsuch's views? Gorsuch's ascension fulfills a campaign promise that motivated sometimes-wary conservatives to support him: His pledge to put a conservative on the Supreme Court.
Republicans refused to even vote on Garland's nomination, instead waiting for Obama to be out of office, letting the next President choose a nominee.
Gorsuch now counts 55 supporters in the Senate: the 52 Republicans, along with three moderate Democrats from states that Trump won last November - Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia did not vote. Republicans responded with the elimination of the Supreme Court confirmation filibusters. Trump is planning major tax cut legislation as well. Today, Senate Republicans chose to change the rules that have been honored for more than 200 years on his behalf. The rules change is known as the "nuclear option" because of its far-reaching implications.
However, while the Court may not change much in its makeup with Gorsuch's addition, his nomination was shrouded in controversy due to political games by both Republicans and Democrats that went on since President Barack Obama first nominated Judge Merrick Garland to be Scalia's replacement. Courts blocked his executive action to stop people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, then moved to change the rules so that the 60-vote threshold to advance Supreme Court nominations is now eliminated. "So we are charging Judge Gorsuch to be the independent and fair-minded justice that America badly needs".
After he is sworn in, Gorsuch will restore the court's conservative voting majority that existed before Scalia's death. The court also is likely to tackle transgender rights and union funding in coming years.
Gorsuch will be sworn in Monday and will quickly begin confronting cases of outcome, including one involving separation of church and state that the justices will take up in less than two weeks. As soon as April 13, he could take part in his first private conference, where justices decide whether to hear cases - and some of them could involve gun rights, voting rights and a Colorado baker's refusal to design a cake for a same-sex couple's wedding. "In fact, I am confident we will", said Sen.