The Republican-controlled Senate voted Thursday to change rules on confirming Supreme Court nominees, upending congressional tradition and virtually guaranteeing President Donald Trump’s choice of Neil Gorsuch will be approved.
Invoking what is known as the “nuclear option,” the Senate voted 52 to 48 to change longstanding rules and allow Gorsuch and future Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed with a simple majority.
Democrats had earlier Thursday voted to block Gorsuch’s nomination, in what was expected to only be a temporary delay. A total of 45 senators voted against moving forward with Gorsuch’s nomination. But with Democrats having filibustered — or blocked — the nomination, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would go ahead with a motion changing rules requiring 60 votes to advance to a vote on final passage.
“This will be the first and last partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nomination,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. McConnell has said he wants Gorsuch confirmed by Friday.
The rule change is known as the nuclear option due to its breaking of longstanding precedent.
Read: What is the Senate’s nuclear option?
Trump nominated Gorsuch in January to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Trump has expressed support for using the nuclear option to confirm Gorsuch.
Democrats say the nuclear option as it applies to Supreme Court nominees risks increasing partisan divisions.
“In a post-nuclear world,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, “there’s no incentive to even speak to the Senate minority.”
Senate Democrats themselves have used the nuclear option, however. In 2013, when they were in the majority, Democrats lowered the vote threshold on nominees excluding Supreme Court picks from 60 to a simple majority.
Four Democrats joined Republicans to support Gorsuch on the procedural hurdle Thursday: Michael Bennet of Colorado; Joe Donnelly of Indiana; Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota; and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Trump won the latter three states in last November’s election. Bennet has been critical of the nuclear option and warned it would hurt the minority in the future.
If Gorsuch is confirmed it would tip the high court’s balance in conservatives’ favor. It is now split four-four between conservatives and liberals.
Trump could get another chance to replace a justice during his presidency, especially aging liberals like 84-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg or 78-year-old Stephen Breyer. The nuclear option would make his choices much easier in the current Senate, which Republicans control 52-48.