On April 10th, Mr. Neil Gorsuch was formally sworn in as the ninth Supreme Court justice. He is the successor of the late Honorable Antonin Scalia who died in February 2016.
Justice Scalia was a conservative judge. President Obama appointed Merrick Garland, a more liberal judge, to be the next Supreme Court justice.
However, the Republican-controlled Congress refused to consider Garland for the job because appointing him would mean only 4 of the 9 justices would be conservative. This week, Republicans in Congress invoked the "nuclear option" to confirm conservative Justice Gorsuch. Lets understand what happened.
The U.S Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the judicial branch of the government. There are nine Justices whose job is to interpret laws and decide whether or not they are in line with the Constitution.
Judges, once appointed, often stay on the Supreme Court for life. To be on the Supreme Court, a vacancy must first open, either though the passing or retiring of a former judge. Then, the current President nominates a new judge to be confirmed by the Congress.
Conservatives believe that the Constitution is a solid document which should be strictly followed so as to maintain its purity. Liberals see the Constitution as a living document that needs to change with time. Therefore, the confirmation of a new judge is a huge opportunity for conservatives or liberals to get their respective voices heard.
What Is The Nuclear Option?
After Trump won the election, he proposed Neil Gorsuch, a conservative, to fill the spot. Democrats were outraged over the decision and tried to block the vote.
In the past, 60/100 votes have been required to confirm a judge to the Supreme Court. This rule was made so parties had to work together to find and confirm a judge most people could like and trust. However, since Republicans only had 54 votes for confirming Gorsuch, they decided instead to change the rules. The “Nuclear Option” changed the majority from 60 votes to only 50 votes. On April 7th, Gorsuch was successfully confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice.
Democrats and Republicans alike have opposed using the “Nuclear Option”. Those against it believe changing the rules will worsen the divide and prevent future cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. Many believe now minority parties will have no future voice in Supreme Court confirmation decisions. They also believe such a move brings politics into the Supreme Court, a branch of government which tries hard to remain non-political.
Changing the rules will certainly affect the future of power and politics in the United States. Whether Republicans truly won the battle remains to be seen.