Senate confirms Neil Gorsuch to the supreme court after historic rules change
The Guardian – Lauren Gambino in Washington – Friday 7 April 2017
Gorsuch, Trump’s pick to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat, is in after a three-day hearing and a debate that included an all-night protest by a Democratic senator.
Donald Trump welcomed the first major triumph of his presidency on Friday when the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the supreme court in an anticlimactic ending to the unprecedented partisan showdown over the vacancy caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Gorsuch was approved by a vote of 54 to 45 after a marathon three-day hearing, a floor debate that included an all-night protest by a Democratic senator and a historic rules change that allowed his nomination to go forward on a simple majority. The White House said on Friday that Trump would swear in Gorsuch on Monday morning.
In a statement on Friday, Trump hailed Gorsuch’s “historic confirmation”, the first supreme court appointment of his presidency, and said he was the “perfect choice” to serve on the country’s highest court because of his “his judicial temperament, exceptional intellect, unparalleled integrity, and record of independence”.
“As a deep believer in the rule of law, Judge Gorsuch will serve the American people with distinction as he continues to faithfully and vigorously defend our constitution,” Trump said.
Mike Pence presided over the chamber as senators filed in to cast their votes. In the final tally, three Democrats joined Republicans to confirm Gorsuch: Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. One senator, Republican Johnny Isakson of Georgia, did not vote.
The narrow victory, split mostly along party lines, is an illustration of the entrenched political polarization in Washington and an indicator of how future battles over supreme court nominees might be decided. Republicans’ decision to “go nuclear” to bypass a Democratic blockade swept away any hope of returning to the recent past, when nominees were largely confirmed with a bipartisan consensus.
Gorsuch is a Colorado native with an Ivy League résumé that includes degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law School as well as a doctorate from Oxford University, where he studied on a Marshall scholarship. For the past decade, he has served on the 10th circuit court of appeals. He was appointed to that seat in 2005 by George W Bush, and, by contrast, confirmed expeditiously – the Senate approved him on a voice vote with no objections.
At just 49, the staunch conservative could have a long tenure, though his confirmation restores the ideological tilt of the court, which is often narrowly divided five to four on major decisions.
Gorsuch will replace Scalia, the court’s conservative colossus whose death in February 2016 instantly altered the dynamics of the presidential race. From the bench, Scalia elevated the judicial theory of originalism, to which Gorsuch adheres.
Throughout the campaign, Trump promised to appoint a “pro-life” justice to the court. Gorsuch has never ruled directly on abortion and his testimony during the hearing hardly settled the matter. A passage from his book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, indicates “all human beings are intrinsically valuable”, adding that “the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong” – an assertion many have taken as indicative of his position on abortion.
In his most high-profile decision, Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc v Sebelius, Gorsuch argued that the owners of the multibillion-dollar craft store did not need to comply with a provision of Barack Obama’s healthcare law requiring employers to offer birth control to female employees because it violated their religious beliefs. The decision was upheld, five to four, by the supreme court.
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