On Friday, the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to serve as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court by a vote of 54-45. He will be sworn in on Monday.
The day before the confirmation vote, 43 Senate Democrats and 2 Senate Independents made history filibustering Gorsuch, refusing to give him the longstanding 60-votes required to close the debate on a Supreme Court nominee. The goal of those Senators was to express to the Republicans, who hold a 52 seat majority in the Senate, that Gorsuch was a concerning candidate to serve on the Court and put pressure on the President to select a new mainstream nominee.
Instead, all 52 Senate Republicans led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voted to abandon 200 years of Senate tradition and employ the “nuclear option,” changing the rule requiring a 60-vote threshold for cloture, and forcing Gorsuch’s nomination through with only 55 votes.
The 60-vote threshold was put in place to ensure bi-partisan cooperation when it came to confirming a lifetime appointment to the highest Court in the land. Observers of the Senate and the Court now feel that without a 60-vote threshold, the Court will become even more polarized and politicized.
The seat Gorsuch will be filling has been vacant for over a year following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the refusal of Senate Republicans to even hold a hearing for Obama nominee Merrick Garland, a man widely considered to be the most moderate possible candidate for the job.
During his 20 hours of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee Gorsuch refused to provide substantive answers to even the most basic questions. In the morning of his second day of testimony, the Supreme Court, located just across the street, unanimously overturned one of his lower court rulings against the family of a child with autism who sought private school tuition reimbursement after their public school district failed to provide any substantive education to the child.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), public schools are required to provide “free appropriate education” with meaningful benefits to children with disabilities. Gorsuch had ruled that the child had received an appropriate education because the school had provided barely more than “de minimis,” meaning “so minor as to merit disregard.” The Court unanimously overturned his decision, ruling that IDEA demanded that a child be making progress from year to year, not just simply be sitting around waiting until they were old enough to drop out.
This case was merely one of many in which Gorsuch read the word of the law so narrowly as to completely disregard the context or the impact that the law had on those in question. In 2009 he ruled against a victim of workplace sexual harassment because she had suffered through two months of abuse before filing a complaint. In 2013, he ruled that a University was justified in firing a professor recovering from Leukemia who asked to work from home at her doctor’s insistence during a widespread flu epidemic on campus, claiming the professor was requesting an unreasonable accommodation. In the infamous Hobby Lobby case, Gorsuch ruled that a corporation’s religious freedom trumped the right of women to access birth control. The list of cases goes on.
Thousands of grassroots activists and hundreds of civil rights, feminist, and other social justice organizations such as the Feminist Majority Foundation, NAACP, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Organization for Women, and Planned Parenthood Federation publicly opposed Gorsuch due to his consistent rulings putting corporations above women, workers and everyday people.
Media Resources: New York Times 4/7/17; Think Progress 3/22/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 3/31/17; People for the American Way 3/2017.