Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch confirmed to US supreme court
Appointment after fractious partisan battle restores 5-4 conservative majority to court
Judge Neil Gorsuch during his confirmation hearing on March 22nd. He was confirmed on Friday by 54 votes to 45, after three Democrats voted in favour of the Republican president’s nominee. Photograph: Eric Thayer/The New York Times
Neil Gorsuch, the 49-year-old federal judge nominated by President Donald Trump as supreme court justice, was confirmed to the life-long position on Friday, restoring a conservative majority to the nine-member US supreme court.
In a major win for the US president, Mr Gorsuch was confirmed by 54 votes to 45, after three Democrats voted in favour of the Republican president’s nominee.
He is due to begin work the following week.
The appointment of Mr Gorsuch, the youngest nominee in a quarter of a century, brought to an end a bitter confirmation battle which saw the US Senate change the rules governing the election of supreme court judges.
On Thursday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell invoked the so-called “nuclear option”, reducing the majority needed to confirm a supreme court justice to 51 from 60 after Democrats blocked Mr Gorsuch’s appointment. The change has prompted fears that US presidents could propose more ideologically extreme judges in future given the need for just a 51-49 majority in the Senate.
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Speaking on the Senate floor on Friday ahead of the vote, Mr McConnell said that Mr Gorsuch had “sterling credentials, an excellent record and an ideal judicial temperament”.
“He’s going to make an incredible addition to the court. He’s going to make the American people proud,” he said.
But the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, warned that the chamber would become more partisan following the decision to change the voting rules.
Despite a relatively strong performance at his confirmation hearings, some Democrats complained that they did not hear his real views on contentious issues such as abortion and gun rights. Mr Gorsuch defended his independence, telling senators he left his personal views “at the door”.
Democrats are still smarting from the decision by Republicans not to consider President Obama’s nominee to succeed Antonin Scalia at the court following his death in February 2016.
The change in the rules governing the election of supreme court justices has sparked concerns that the appointment of judges could become more politicised, while also raising the prospect that legislative measures could be subject to the majority rules, a move that would represent a dramatic shift in how the Senate operates.
Mr Trump played down the possibility of using the “nuclear option” for future appointments in remarks to reporters on Thursday.
Three of the current US supreme court judges are aged between 78 and 84, fuelling speculation that Mr Trump may have to nominate at least one other supreme court judge during his tenure, a development that could shift the ideological hue of the court significantly to the right.
Separately, as this week’s much-anticipated US-China summit at Mr Trump’s Florida estate was overshadowed by the decision by the US to launch a military strike against Syria on Thursday night, the US was said to be weighing up its options on trade with China, amid reports that Mr Trump may sign an executive order targeting steel-dumping by steel producers including China next week.
Trade and North Korea dominated discussions between Mr Trump and Xi Jinping at Mar-a-lago during the first meeting between the leaders of the world’s top two economies.