The Senate nuclear option was triggered by Republican Senators Thursday morning, resulting in a historic change in how that body functions when it comes to Supreme Court nominations. As reported by CNN, thanks to a Democratic filibuster, Republicans had been unable to ensure the 60-vote minimum required to confirm the nomination of Donald Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. The use of the nuclear option means a vote approving Gorsuch is expected Friday.
Senate Nuclear Option Background
As reported by ABC, Supreme Court nominations have traditionally required that at least 60 senators vote to approve the nominee. This had the benefit of helping to ensure Supreme Court nominees who usually aren’t too far outside of the mainstream when it comes to jurisprudence. But Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s use of the Senate nuclear option changed all this, allowing Gorsuch to be approved with only 51 votes.
Of course, it became clear some time ago that Democrats were not going to vote to approve Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. There were several reasons for this resistance on the part of Democrats.
One thing motivating Democratic senators to oppose Gorsuch was that the Republicans just last year refused to even consider President Barack Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. For many Democrats, Republican refusal to allow the Garland nomination to come up for a vote mandated a filibuster from Democrats on Trump’s nominee.
But in addition to this political back-and-forth between the two parties, there was also genuine concern among many Democrats that Garland was too much of an ideologue and too committed to far right positions to make impartial decisions on the Supreme Court. In the end, these factors led the Democrats to threaten a filibuster of Neil Gorsuch, which in turn led to the Republicans using the Senate nuclear option to clear a path for him.
Future Nominations in the Senate
Nuclear option sounds like a fairly drastic – even scary – step, but is its impact being exaggerated? While there is no way of determining the answer with any certainty, the simple fact is that the use of the nuclear option is likely to make future nominations to the Supreme Court much more partisan and to further poison the political atmosphere in Washington.
Even some Republicans felt that turning to the Senate nuclear option was a mistake. Senator Lindsey Graham related his reservations to reporters Monday.
“This is going to be very bad…. If you want to get a judge on the court you better have a majority. So this is going to haunt the Senate, it is going to change the judiciary, and it’s so unnecessary.”
In fact, Republicans may well find that the short-term advantages they get by having a working majority on the Supreme Court will be offset the very next time Democrats have control of the Senate and are evaluating nominees for the court. At this juncture, it is almost a certainty that the nuclear option will go from being the exception to being the rule.
Senator John McCain was equally concerned about the use of the Senate nuclear option, stating, “What we are poised to do at the end of this week will have tremendous consequences, and I fear that someday we will regret what we’re about to do. In fact, I’m confident we will.”
But if this does happen, Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. They refused a vote on Obama’s nominee last year but forced Trump’s through this year. It’s hardly likely that the Democrats will turn the other cheek when they are in the driver’s seat by returning to the old rules and traditions for nominees. So it’s virtually guaranteed that the Senate nuclear option will be in play then as well.
[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]