After invoking nuclear option, Senate confirms Gorsuch 54-45

Just over two months after his nomination, on April 7th, the Senate confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States. Gorsuch fills the seat opened by Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing in February of 2016. Prior to Gorsuch’s confirmation, the Supreme Court had operated with eight justices.

Gorsuch boasts a typical Supreme Court Justice résumé, having graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Columbia in 1988, cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1991 and from the University of Oxford with a doctorate degree in legal philosophy in 2004. Gorsuch served as clerk for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. President George W. Bush appointed Gorsuch to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit where he has served since 2006.

Scalia’s vacated seat was hotly contested as it has grave implications for the makeup of the Supreme Court, and therefore many of the pressing social issues of our time such as gay marriage, transgender rights, anti-discrimination law, and abortion. Republicans in the Senate have been criticized for refusing to consider President Obama’s March, 2016 nomination to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland.

Many conservatives immediately took heart in the reality that the Supreme Court would resume its ideological balance with a conservative nomination under Trump. Gorsuch’s confirmation means that the court is once again essentially balanced; Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Ginsburg representing the liberals on the court, and Souter, Thomas, Roberts, and now Gorsuch representing the conservatives. Justice Anthony Kennedy, although nominated by President Ronald Reagan, is a proven swing-voter and perhaps the most moderate of the current Justices.

Gorsuch faced a tough confirmation hearing as a result of the significance of Scalia’s seat. Among other important issues, democrats pressed him on his allegiance to Trump, whether or not he had been asked by the White House to vote a particular way on specific issues, and his approach to Constitutional interpretation.

Gorsuch made it clear, though it was largely known, that he is a Constitutional originalist, commenting, “the Constitution doesn’t change, the world around us changes.” Gorsuch was firm in stating that he would have no problem ruling against President Trump, saying that “no man is above the law.” Finally, Gorsuch assured the senate that he had not promised the White House that he would rule a specific way on any issues.

Before Gorsuch was able to receive a final vote, Democrats began a filibuster. While filibusters require 60 votes to break, Republicans voted to invoke the “nuclear option,” which changed the rules of the Senate to allow the confirmation to proceed with a simple majority. This action completed the process, begun in 2013 by Harry Reid, to end the use of filibusters to block judicial nominees. The final vote was 54-45 in favor of Gorsuch’s confirmation. The vote was largely on party lines; however, Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Manchin III (D-WV) crossed party lines and voted in favor of Gorsuch while Johnny Isakson (R-GA) did not vote.

In his opening statement to the Senate, Gorsuch, though acknowledging that he did not always agree with Justice Scalia, commended him for his commitment to the judicial the original intent of those who wrote and ratified our Constitution. He remarked, “[Justice Scalia] reminded us that words matter. That the judge’s job is to follow the words that are in the law, not replace them with those that aren’t.” Gorsuch indicated that he would approach the law using the judicial principle of originalism, that is, attempting to interpret the law as originally written. is opening statement indicates indicates that he will the same commitment to the separation of powers as his predecessor.

Gorsuch also expressed his belief that a judge’s role is to apply and interpret the law, not write or rewrite it. In his statement, he said that “under our Constitution, it’s for [the legislative body], the peoples’ representatives, to make new laws, for the executive to ensure those laws are faithfully executed, and for neutral and independent judges to apply the law in the peoples’ disputes. If judges were just secret legislatures declaring not what the law is but what they would like it to be, the very idea of a government by the people and for the people would be at risk.”

This past week, Gorsuch participated in oral arguments for Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, a case which many observers consider to be one of the most influential of this term. In 2012, Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri applied to participate in a state playground safety program which granted funding for playground mulch made from rubber tires. The state denied their application on the grounds of a Missouri constitutional provision which reads, “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” Trinity Lutheran Church sued, claiming that, in being denied access to a neutral aid program, they are unduly burdened on the basis of their religion. The case involved interpreting both Free Exercise and Equal Protection clauses, likely causing any decision to have consequences for all religious organizations faced with similar situations in the future.
Keenan White is a sophomore Political science and History double major with a minor in Constitutional Studies. She is a native of South Bend living in Badin Hall. Yes, Keenan was named after the dorm. You can contact her at