April 6 (UPI) — Senate Democrats invoked a filibuster in an attempt to block the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, setting up a showdown that could change how such vacancies are filled for years to come.
Republicans who control the Senate have pledged they will turn to the so-called “nuclear option” to win Gorsuch’s approval. Such a maneuver would upend decades of Senate precedent that requires 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to approve Supreme Court nominees.
Changes to the arcane Senate filibuster have been threatened by both parties during contentious nomination fights in the past. The “nuclear option” would end the practice of requiring 60 votes to close off debate on a Supreme Court nominee and bring it to an up-or-down vote. The minority party has long leaned on the filibuster as a means of maintaining a foothold in the confirmation process.
While the filibuster would remain in place for common legislation, under the change proposed this time by Republicans to win Gorsuch’s confirmation, it would be outlawed for Supreme Court nominees.
To date, neither Democrats nor Republicans have seriously contemplated doing away with the filibuster rules for a Supreme Court seat, the most consequential seat on which senators vote. Previously, when Democrats were in the majority and angered over Republican filibusters of former President Barack Obama‘s nominees, they outlawed the use of the filibuster for lower court seats and sub-Cabinet posts.
Critics from both sides have argued reducing the threshold for the high court from a bipartisan supermajority of the Senate to a partisan 50-plus-one vote will result in more ideologically extreme nominees.
Gorsuch’s nomination is the latest chapter in a 14-month battle over the vacant seat, which was created in February of 2016 when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died.
Democrats were furious when Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, Judge Merrick Garland, was not granted a confirmation hearing by Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gambled a GOP victory in the 2016 presidential election would prevent tipping the balance of the court from a one-vote conservative majority bloc to what would widely be perceived as a 5-4 liberal majority with another Democratic nominee on the bench.
Republicans responded by rallying behind Gorsuch, 49, a relatively young conservative appeals court judge, as qualified for the Supreme Court and uncontroversial.