WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Neil M. Gorsuch to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, capping more than a year of bitter partisan bickering over the ideological balance of the nation’s highest court.
On a vote of 54-45, senators confirmed Gorsuch, 49, a Denver-based judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. He will become the 113th person to serve on the Supreme Court and is scheduled to be sworn in Monday.
Gorsuch replaces former Justice Antonin Scalia, whose sudden death in February 2016 sparked a yearlong partisan fight over the ideological balance of the court. Gorsuch will be thrust into the final weeks of the Supreme Court’s term. The last round of oral arguments for the term is scheduled to begin April 17, and the term ends in June.
Gorsuch’s confirmation is a marquee accomplishment for President Donald Trump and his young administration, capping a momentous week for the White House that included the first military airstrikes authorized by the president.
In a statement, Trump called Gorsuch’s confirmation “one of the most transparent and accessible in history, and his judicial temperament, exceptional intellect, unparalleled integrity, and record of independence makes him the perfect choice to serve on the Nation’s highest court.” Trump added later that Gorsuch “will serve the American people with distinction as he continues to faithfully and vigorously defend our Constitution.
Trump also thanked Scalia and his wife, Maureen, “for their immeasurable service to this country.”
The vote also is a significant legislative win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who refused to even consider President Barack Obama’s nominee after Scalia died, leaving the seat open for Trump to fill.
Before the vote, McConnell said that as he reflected on his career, “the most consequential decision I’ve ever been involved in was the decision to let the president being elected last year pick the Supreme Court nominee.”
Gorsuch will be sworn in Monday by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who will administer the constitutional oath in a private ceremony at 9 a.m. at the Supreme Court. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy will administer the judicial oath at a public ceremony at the White House later that day.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. is the most recent justice to have been confirmed during a Supreme Court term. He was sworn in the same day as his confirmation, and a ceremonial event with President George W. Bush was held the next day.
On the Supreme Court, Gorsuch could hold the deciding vote on several important issues.
The justices will meet privately Thursday to accept or reject cases for next term. Among them: a petition from gun rights activists asking the court to find for the first time that the Second Amendment right to keep a gun for self-defense extends to carrying firearms outside the home. There is also a plea on behalf of business owners who want to be able to refuse their wedding services to same-sex couples.
In the coming weeks, the court is likely to decide whether to intervene in a lower court’s decision that voting-law changes in North Carolina were passed by the Republican-controlled legislature to diminish the influence of minority voters.
And when the justices gather for their last round of oral arguments this month, Gorsuch stands to hold the deciding vote in the term’s major case involving the separation of church and state. Missouri cited a clause in its state constitution barring any government support for any religious group to eliminate a church-affiliated school’s application to a program to improve playground safety. The case was accepted when Scalia was alive, and the delay in scheduling it for oral argument might indicate the court is divided.
Gorsuch’s confirmation was all but assured Thursday when Republicans cleared the way for him by overcoming a historic Democratic blockade and changing the rules of the Senate.
The long-anticipated rules change now means that all presidential nominees for executive branch positions and the federal courts need only a simple majority vote to be confirmed by senators.
The GOP decision to ram through the rules change — and their decision last year to block consideration of Judge Merrick Garland, Obama’s choice to succeed Scalia — is also likely to further divide an increasingly partisan Senate. Several senators openly fretted that eliminating the minority party’s right to block high-court nominees could lead to the end of filibusters on legislation — effectively transforming the Senate’s traditional role in the legislative process as the slower, more deliberative chamber.
Gorsuch’s nomination was announced by Trump in late January and earned immediate, widespread praise from Republican lawmakers excited by the prospect of maintaining the court’s previous ideological balance and relieved by how well the White House orchestrated the nomination.
Drawing from a list of 21 names first released during the presidential campaign, Trump introduced Gorsuch to the country in a slickly produced prime-time address from the White House East Room, attended by GOP senators who eagerly sang Gorsuch’s praises to television cameras shortly after Trump left the room.
In the past four months, Gorsuch met with 78 senators and sat for three days of confirmation hearings last month, answering nearly 1,200 questions and submitting another 70 pages of written responses. But his repeated refusal to engage on specific Supreme Court cases or policy issues frustrated Democrats concerned that his lighter judicial record on matters, ranging from abortion rights to environmental protection and campaign finance law, coupled with his refusal to denounce Trump personally for his attacks on federal judges, made it difficult to determine his judicial philosophy and potential to be an independent check on the White House.
Republicans, determined to restore the conservative tilt of the Supreme Court since Scalia’s unexpected death, worked in lockstep throughout the months-long fight. They united on the three votes needed to set Gorsuch on a glide path to confirmation Thursday and on Friday’s final confirmation vote.
Among Democratic senators, three moderates — Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia — who have faced a barrage of television ads in their home states to support Gorsuch, joined with the 51 Republicans who voted on Friday. Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who is recovering from recent back surgeries, was absent Friday.
Washington Post writers Sean Sullivan, David Weigel and Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.