Such lovely news to awake to in New Zealand: CNN and The New York Times both report that the Senate voted along party lines to break the Democratic filibuster of proposed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, invoking the “nuclear option.”
That option allows a filibuster (Democratic, in this case) to be stopped with a mere 51 instead of the previous 60 votes, and to do that, Republicans had to change the longstanding Senate rules. They could do both since they hold a majority in the Senate.
What this means is that in the future the majority party can simply confirm all nominees by majority vote, something the filibuster-breaking rule was designed to prevent (the Senate wanted more than a majority consensus on crucial legal issues). And I think the Democrats were justified in trying to block Gorsuch’s nomination in view of the reprehensible way Republicans treated Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland.
The Democrats might be said to have lost credibility on this issue since they themselves used the nuclear option several years ago—but for lower-court judges. The Times reports:
Senate Democrats in 2013 first changed the rules of the Senate to block Republican filibusters of presidential nominees to lower courts and to government positions, but they left the filibuster in place for Supreme Court nominees, an acknowledgment of the sacrosanct nature of the high court. That last pillar was knocked down [with yesterday’s vote] on a party-line vote, with all 52 Republicans voting to overrule Senate precedent and all 48 Democrats and liberal-leaning independents voting to keep it.
The Senate then voted 55-45 to cut off debate — four votes more than needed under the new rules — and move to a final vote on Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation Friday evening, with a simple majority needed for approval.
To see how the Senator voted on both the filibuster and the “nuclear option,” go here.
Upshot: Gorsuch will be confirmed on Friday, making the Supreme Court conservative for years to come. Expect Roe v Wade to be weakened, and maybe even some sneaking in of creationism in public schools. The Republicans had no right to block Garland’s nomination, and they deserved the filibuster. And the nuclear option should not be exercised in the appointment of any federal judges, as it helps prevent courts that rule on ideology rather than the law. (Of course that is already the case with the Supreme Court, as we saw in the 2000 vote on Bush v. Gore.)