WASHINGTON, D.C. – Judge Neil Gorsuch will not only be an influence on the Supreme Court if he is confirmed as expected on Friday, his nomination has changed the Senate as well.
On Thursday, senators voted to invoke the “nuclear option,” a rule change that means Supreme Court nominees require only a simple majority vote to be confirmed, not the 60-vote threshold of the past. The change means any party with a one-seat majority can confirm a nominee without any support from the minority party.
The rule change is not the first of its kind. In 2013, Democrats invoked the “nuclear option” on all lower-court and executive branch nominees when Republicans stalled President Barack Obama’s appointees.
The “nuclear option” is not just a rule change for confirmations, it changes the character of the Senate. The Senate has been known as a place to “cool” potentially inflammatory legislation or nominees, like a saucer is used to cool hot tea. The filibuster and the 60-vote threshold required that senators work together to confirm a nominee, rather than nominating extremists.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, actively worked to prevent the change because of his concern for the future.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Bennet said, “Our system is also held together by rules, written and unwritten, that help elected officials resolve their differences without unleashing a downward spiral of recrimination that could endanger the Republic itself.”
The concern of some is that losing the filibuster on nominees could eventually lead to its loss on legislation, and that it would lead to more extremist nominees.
A filibuster is a delaying tactic used by the minority opposition on certain bills that can lead to bills being killed or amended.
The “nuclear option” didn’t happen with a bang, but with a whimper of procedural motions.
The first motion to invoke cloture, a vote that would prevent any filibusters and start a 30-hour countdown to a vote on the nominee, failed. Bennet voted to invoke cloture, breaking with the majority of the Democrats and joining his Republican colleagues, including Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado.
After that first vote, which could have prevented the “nuclear option” from being triggered, Bennet chose to stick with his party. He voted to postpone the nomination until April 24 and to adjourn the Senate until 5 p.m., both of which failed.
When it came time to invoke the “nuclear option,” Bennet voted against it, while Gardner voted for it. It passed on a 52-48 party line vote.
In the second, and vote to close debate after the “nuclear option,” Bennet voted against invoking cloture, and Gardner voted to invoke it. The second cloture vote passed 55 to 45 due to the invoking of the “nuclear option,” and that means the Senate will vote on the nomination of Gorsuch sometime Friday.
Gardner has said since Gorsuch’s nomination that he would vote to confirm the federal judge from Colorado.
In speeches on the Senate floor, Gardner has called Gorsuch a “mainstream jurist,” an “incredibly exceptional legal mind” and “one of the brightest jurists this country has to offer.”
Earlier Thursday, Bennet released a statement that he will vote no on the confirmation because of “concerns about (Gorsuch’s) approach to the law.”
Before the votes took place senators from both parties expressed concerns about the “nuclear option.”
Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, D-New York, spoke on the Senate floor about the changes, saying “We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court.”
And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said: “This is going to be a chapter, a monumental event in the history of the Senate, not for the better but for the worse.”
Although the 60-vote threshold could be reinstated, it is unlikely because there is little incentive for the majority party in the future to make it more difficult to confirm its nominees.
“Wherever we place the starting point of this long twilight battle over the judiciary,” Schumer said, “we are now at its endpoint.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.Shira Stein is a reporting intern for the Herald in Washington, D.C., and a student at American University. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @stein_shira.