Political Focus: Senate votes on SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch

Melissa Deatsch, Sports Editor

With the passing of Antonin Scalia, one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s most conservative-leaning justices, the fight over his replacement has been vicious. Using all necessary measures, Republicans successfully fought to delay the nomination of Scalia’s replacement until after former President Barack Obama was out of office.

Scalia’s seat has now been open for 416 days, leaving the Supreme Court with eight justices. Now, the tables have turned, and Senate Republicans are fighting to get President Donald Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, confirmed, while the Democrats debate the best strategy to proceed.

Republicans in the Senate have been unable to reach the number of votes it would take to stop a filibuster from Senate Democrats attempting to block Gorsuch’s nomination. Because of this blockage, which is almost certain to happen when the nomination hits the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be forced to “go nuclear” to get Gorsuch confirmed.

What this would do is change the voting process for Supreme Court nominees, allowing them to be confirmed by a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes that are currently required. This would allow the 52 Republicans in the Senate to confirm Gorsuch without a single vote from the Democrats. McConnell has given every indication that this is his intention.

Trump vowed throughout his campaign that his Supreme Court pick would be someone with ideologies similar to Scalia’s. By nominating Gorsuch, he picked just that.

Gorsuch’s Ivy League education and Supreme Court clerkship make him a hard nomination not to confirm. His confirmation should bring a familiar dynamic back to the Supreme Court.

Who is Neil Gorsuch?

Gorsuch attended Harvard Law School and attained his Ph.D. from Oxford. He clerked for Judge David B. Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as well as Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, he serves as a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Gorsuch is 49 years old, which would make him the youngest on the bench if confirmed and the youngest nominee in 25 years.  The average age of the current Supreme Court justices is about 70.

In ranking the justices’ politics from left to right, Gorsuch is predicted to land as the second-most conservative justice, behind Clarence Thomas. This is slightly to the right of where Scalia landed, as analyzed in a 2016 report by Lee Epstein of Washington University, Andrew D. Martin of the University of Michigan and Kevin Quinn of the University of California, Berkeley.

Those familiar with Gorsuch’s work speak very highly of his ethics and his writing skills. Another related, interesting detail: In 2006, Gorush published a book on the debate surrounding assisted suicide, concluding that no form of euthanasia should be legal.

What influence would Gorsuch have during this term?

The Supreme Court term runs through June, but justices are only able to vote on cases they have heard argued. The last arguments for this term are scheduled for April 19, putting pressure on Republicans to get Gorsuch on the bench in less time than this process usually takes.

On the agenda for April 19 is a case that’s almost certain to deadlock with the current eight-justice system. It concerns the separation of church and state, as the state of Missouri blocked a Lutheran church from participating in a state program that allows schools to resurface playgrounds using recycled tires.

Missouri officials argue Missouri’s constitution doesn’t allow for the spending of public money on any churches. The church argues the state constitution violates “equal protection principles and the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion.”

If serving on the bench in time, Gorsuch is likely to cast the deciding vote in that case.  Mitch McConnell has gone on the record saying they will have Gorsuch confirmed by the end of the week, no matter what it takes.