By Victoria Lu
Democrats and Republicans are once again entangled in a gridlock due to the recent nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. This fight for the ninth Supreme Court justice position had been never-ending tug-a-war battle in the recent few months. After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, the Obama administration had appointed Merrick Garland, a moderate, for the Court in the hopes that this nomination would pass through with both sides compromising. However, the Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings, arguing that a new presidential administration would soon be coming in and that the Republican-held Senate would hold the hearings off until then. After the Trump administration was ushered into office, it appointed Neil Gorsuch, a conservative who some compare to Antonin Scalia. In response to this action, the Democrats had vowed that they would reciprocate the Republicans’ deliberate delay of the nomination.
A filibuster is when senators stand on the floor and deliberately make long speeches to delay or block legislation. With the Democrats pledging to filibuster the Supreme justice nomination, the Republicans used the “nuclear” option, which would allow a Supreme Court justice to be approved with just 51 votes (majority) rather than 60 votes (supermajority). The Democrats had used this tactic in 2013, when Senate Majority Harry Reid lowered the voting threshold for lower court judges; the Republicans now use this action as precedent and justification for their current plan to lower the limit for Supreme Court justices. While this action would certainly allow Gorsuch to be approved if all 52 Republicans voted in his favor, many still are skeptical towards the future of this option.
So how will this “nuclear” option affect future nominations? Since a supermajority will no longer be required, many argue that the tradition of the Senate being built upon consent from all the senators may be eliminated. Invoking cloture for nominations by just a simple majority may possibly remove the tradition of filibustering in the Senate altogether. This change would result in a very different Senate than the one that stands today and that has existed in the past few decades.
Additionally, this choice of the nuclear option suggests of the increasing partisanship and polarization in the government. When 60 senators confirm a Supreme Court justice, it indicates that the justices appointed satisfy the demands of both parties and are deemed more moderate rather than extreme. However, with the Republicans deploying the nuclear option , many predict that future federal judge nominations and confirmations will be more extreme and will side with one particular party agenda, a cause for concern for both parties. Because the Senate does not need 60 votes to confirm the justices, presidents will need to serve the interests of the majority party in power in order to have their nominations appointed. This action also signals the possibility of the minority power losing more power in the Senate, as they may not be able to have the chance to filibuster or express their disapproval towards a nomination if only 51 senators are needed to approve the nomination.
The public fears a future filled with partisanship and party polarization. They wonder that if both parties are unable to compromise on nominations for Supreme Court justices and other nominations, it is likely that in the future, they are less likely to agree on legislation and public policies. This inability to agree reflects the heightened partisanship in the government; many Americans have expressed their desire for the government to compromise and advance policy. Whether or not the senators and government heed this advice is up to them to decide.