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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 last year.
Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the bench, was passed on a 54-to-45 vote. Just three Democrats – Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia; Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota; and Joe Donnelly of Indiana – voted to confirm Gorsuch. The three hail from states carried significantly by Trump in last fall’s election.
The 49-year-old Denver-based judge will become the 113th person to serve on the nation’s highest court. Gorsuch will replace Scalia, and both judges were considered to be textualists and originalists, viewing the Constitution as the founders had intended their words to be understood at the time those words were written. Gorsuch’s ascension to the court will keep the balance of the court where it was before Scalia’s death on almost all issues.
Scalia’s death triggered a more than yearlong partisan fight that spilled into the ongoing presidential election. Soon after the longtime jurist’s death, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the void. But his nomination was obstructed by Republicans, who refused to hold any hearings or votes on the nominee. Instead, Republican leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for the fall’s election to determine the fate of the Supreme Court seat.
The plan worked. Trump gained support from those who wanted to see a conservative on the bench in Scalia’s seat, and narrowly won the election. In turn, Democrats attempted to obstruct Gorsuch’s nomination, seeing it as tit-for-tat with Republican obstruction of Garland. But without a majority in the Senate, the Democratic attempted were futile, and McConnell, just Thursday, invoked what is known as “the nuclear option” to end the option of filibustering Supreme Court nominees through rewriting the Senate rules by a simple majority vote.
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.
Following the confirmation vote, Republicans congratulated Gorsuch and praised the Trump nominee’s record.
“Judge Gorsuch is a worthy successor to Justice Scalia, and he will decide cases fairly based on our Constitution and the law, not based on personal beliefs,” GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said in a statement. “I congratulate Judge Gorsuch on this significant achievement, even despite Democrats’ obstruction, and I welcome him to the Supreme Court.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a speech from the Senate floor, called on Gorsuch to be a “fair-minded justice that America badly needs.”
“At a time when folks are struggling to stay in the middle class, and are struggling as hard as ever to get into the middle class, we need a justice on the court who will help swing it back in the direction of the people,” Schumer said. “So we are charging Judge Gorsuch to be the independent and fair-minded justice that America badly needs. If he is, instead, a justice for the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, that will spell trouble for America.”