Shortly before departing for its customary Easter recess, the Senate confirmed Tenth Circuit Court Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve as the newest associate justice on the Supreme Court.  The vote was 54-45, and occurred only after Senate Republicans invoked the so-called “nuclear option,” which effectively prevented Senate Democrats from blocking the nomination with a filibuster.

There has been a vacancy on the High Court since the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.  Although former President Obama nominated D.C. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy, his nomination was never taken up by Senate Republicans in hopes that a Republican president would be elected last November, who would then be able to name Justice Scalia’s successor.  That strategy obviously worked.

While operating with only eight justices over the last year, split down the middle ideologically, the Court was able to reach a majority decision in most cases, although it did occasionally deadlock at 4–4.  While it is impossible to say how Justice Gorsuch will come down in any particular case, based on his experience of more than 10 years as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, it is widely expected that he will reliably vote with the Court’s more conservative justices in cases decided along traditional ideological lines.

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