The Senate has voted to confirm federal Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado to the Supreme Court, thus concluding a controversial period of the court being without a full bench for over a year. The confirmation was achieved by dismantling the 60-vote threshold historically required to circumvent a filibuster on Gorsuch's appointment.
On April 7, Gorsuch was confirmed by a vote of 54 to 45. He will be officially sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on April 10, followed by Justice Anthony Kennedy administering a judicial oath later that day, The Washington Post reports.
On April 6, Senate Democrats had successfully filibustered Gorusch's nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky responded by invoking the so-called "nuclear option."
The move ended the minority party's ability to filibuster appointments to the Supreme Court, which had never been exercised before Gorsuch's nomination. In McConnell's view, the Democrats had no viable objection against the SCOTUS nominee.
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"He has sterling credentials, an excellent record and an ideal judicial temperament," McConnell said on the Senate floor, according to CNN. "He has the independence of mind for fairness."
Gorsuch will replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away unexpectedly in February 2016. Senate Republicans had refused to hold hearings for former President Barack Obama's nominee, U.S. District Judge Merrick Garland, to replace Scalia.
The unprecedented move by GOP lawmakers to refuse hearings sparked a year of partisan controversy in Congress, prompting Democratic lawmakers to accuse McConnell and his colleagues of essentially stealing a SCOTUS seat, Slate reports.
"Merrick Garland could have been given a hearing and vote... as I've talked to my colleagues in the last week, [there's been] a pretty broadly shared sense that this is a stolen seat and that simply threatening us with changing the rules rather than engaging with us is not a good approach to this confirmation," Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said days before his party's filibuster prompted McConnell to invoke the nuclear option.
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Some lawmakers have expressed concern over how the fallout of Scalia's death has impacted both the Senate and the Supreme Court. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the only GOP lawmaker who had called for Garland to be allotted a hearing, believes that the chamber has been degrading its rules because of partisanship for years.
"I worry for the institution," Collins told The New York Times. "I think, at the risk of alienating everyone I have to work with here, that there's real shortsightedness on both parts."
President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch on Jan. 31. Since then, the Colorado judge has met with 78 senators and underwent three days of confirmation hearings in March. He will sit on the SCOTUS for the remainder of its current term through June. He could be the deciding vote on cases currently on the Court's docket, which range from voting rights to separation of church and state.