On Friday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Neil M. Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gorsuch joins fellow conservatives Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy on a court that also includes liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Gorsuch's first official act would be to participate in the justices' private April 13 conference to consider new cases to hear. Now the Democrats are on the receiving end, and with much higher stakes - namely the make-up of the U.S. Supreme Court for many years to come.
While Gorsuch will not be the only court justice who has failed to obtain a 60 vote super-majority, he will be the first for which the majority party changes the rules of the Senate to invoke cloture, end a filibuster, and confirm him. The Senate's approval of Gorsuch, 49, reinstates the nine-seat court's 5-4 conservative majority, fulfilling an important campaign promise made by the Republican president. Three Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018 in states won by Trump past year - Indiana's Joe Donnelly, West Virginia's Joe Manchin and North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp - voted for Gorsuch.
Republicans exulted in the victory.
Democrats opposed Gorsuch in part because Senate Republicans blocked former President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, last year.
"The practical result of where we are now is we're back to where we were as late as 2000", said McConnell, pointing out that even Clarence Thomas got onto the court without a filibuster, despite highly contentious confirmation hearings regarding sexual harassment claims from Anita Hill.
By "going nuclear" - a tactic President Trump suggested Republicans use, if necessary, soon after nominating Gorsuch - they broke the Democratic filibuster, virtually guaranteeing he will be confirmed in a 7 April vote requiring only a simple majority of 51.
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The White House is praising Neil Gorsuch following his confirmation as the next Supreme Court justice.
Yet anti-gun loyalists in the Democratic Party, blinded by ideology and unable to recover from their stinging rebuke in the election, launched the first partisan filibuster in USA history to block Neil Gorsuch's nomination.
Given the United States is governed by a two-party system, with one party holding a majority at any given time, the change in rules means nominees won't have to win bipartisan consensus to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. There are appeals pending on expanding gun rights to include carrying concealed firearms in public, state voting restrictions that critics say are aimed at reducing minority turnout, and allowing business owners to object on religious grounds to provide certain services to gay couples.
"His confirmation will forever be tainted by the Republican Senate majority's callous disregard for the historic rules and traditions of the Senate", said Henderson.
The new justice is also a conservative who adheres to numerous same positions that Scalia did. He is known as a expansive thinker and a facile writer whose law clerks often go on to bigger and better things - including similar postings at the Supreme Court.
Even as they united in indignation, lawmakers of both parties, pulled by fierce political forces from left and right, were unwilling to stop the confirmation rules change. And yet in many ways the showdown had been pre-ordained, the final chapter in years of partisan warfare over judicial nominees.