The Senate on Friday confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court, restoring a 5-4 conservative majority on the high court after a rancorous debate that resulted in the end of a long-standing Senate tradition.
The 54-45 vote became a formality after Republicans voted along party lines Thursday to change the Senate rules and defeat a Democratic filibuster of Gorsuch’s nomination. Three Democrats—Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana—ultimately joined 51 Republicans in support of the Colorado judge, in what became the most partisan confirmation of a Supreme Court justice since Clarence Thomas won the Senate’s approval in 1991.
Gorsuch, 49, will be sworn in next week to fill the seat left vacant for more than a year after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. Following the lead of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans refused to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to replace Scalia.
Gorsuch’s confirmation hands President Trump the first major victory of his young administration, and it represents the most concrete—and potentially one of the longest lasting—consequences of his surprising victory in November. In the final months of the Supreme Court’s current term, Gorsuch could break a potential 4-4 deadlock on cases involving religious freedom, racial discrimination, immigration, and other issues. The court might also have to weigh in on Trump’s executive order restricting travel from majority-Muslim countries. And in the next few years, the justices are expected to consider new cases involving same-sex marriage, abortion, and gun rights.