By invoking the “nuclear option,” McConnell was bringing to an end a rarely used Senate tradition of having the option to require 60 votes for approval of any nominee.
McConnell’s motion does not prohibit filibusters on bills.
The vote should bring to an end more than 20 years of both parties using the filibuster to delay or block nominees to the federal bench and the administration. But it could leave a bitter partisan after-taste to a chamber deeply divided ideologically.
In 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Reid, D-Nev., won approval by 49 other Senate Democrats and independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine to end filibusters for nominees to the federal appeals bench and to the administration.
Reid was furious because McConnell and Republicans had prevented floor votes on three of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
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But in a floor speech that day in 2013, McConnell warned if Reid “changes the rules for some judicial nominees, he is effectively changing them for all judicial nominees, including the Supreme Court.”
McConnell and Republicans such as Portman struck back last year when they refused to hold a hearing or floor vote for Obama's choice of federal appeals Judge Merrick Garland to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. If the Senate confirms Gorsuch, he will replace Scalia.
The last time the Senate used a filibuster to block a Supreme Court nominee was in 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson tried to elevate Justice Abe Fortas to chief justice. A coalition of Senate Republicans and conservative Democrats banded together to block Fortas' nomination because the November election was just a month away.
In a speech before today’s vote, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asked “what, exactly, is so objectionable about this nominee that he should be subjected to the first partisan filibuster in U.S. history?
“Is he not well qualified?” Grassley asked, pointing out he earned his law degree at Harvard and doctorate at Oxford while clerking for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy.
“The truth of the matter is that throughout this process, the minority, led by their leader, has been desperately searching for a justification for their pre-planned filibuster,” Grassley said. “Over the course of the last couple of months, they've trotted out one excuse after another. But nothing will stick.”
But in a floor speech Wednesday, Brown charged that Gorsuch’s record is clear – he has ruled that corporations are people. That means he chose to side with: corporations over workers, polluters over communities, Wall Street over consumer protections, and special interest money over citizens.”
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