The White House, April 10, 2017 — Neil Gorsuch took the oath of office at the White House today to formally join the US Supreme Court and bring the Court back to full membership of nine justices.
And in an era where the courts have become increasingly engaged in the balance of partisan politics, Gorsuch brings the conservative balance on the court back to the 5-4 split it had before the death of Justice Scalia. Justice Gorsuch will now be in a position to vote on a number of cases already before the Court. Those decisions are traditionally announced in June.
Because of the hyper-partisan nature of American politics, where the issue of the future of abortion rights, business regulations, sex discrimination cases, are often sent to the Supreme Court for final determination, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in the US Senate, only after a bitter partisan fight that forced the Republican majority to alter the Senate rules, to allow Justice Gorsuch to be approved on a simple majority vote, as opposed to the previous tradition of having at least 60 votes to confirm.
The vote requiring 60 Senators was due to the fact that the Senate had used the filibuster as a primary implement over its history to protect the rights of the minority party. Without 60 votes in the Senate, the minority party could engage, or threaten, a filibuster, in which senators can control the senate floor by talking at length about anything. It took 60 votes to end a filibuster, and thus the 60 vote margin of approval of justices to the Supreme Court was the norm.
This is President Trump’s first appointment of a justice to the Supreme Court, and comes before Mr Trump has reached his first 100 days in office. Because of the advanced age of a number of the current members of the Court, President Trump may have the opportunity to appoint two or three more justices. Justice Kennedy is now 80, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 84, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 78.
And thus Mr Trump’s presidency may have the most significant impact on the US Supreme Court in the last 40 years. By contrast, President Jimmy Carter did not have the opportunity to appoint even one justice to the Court in his one term in office.
The power to appoint justices to the Court, was a significant campaign issue for President Trump when he ran, and as a candidate. So much so, that Mr Trump released a list of names of potential nominees to the Court, that he would draw from if elected. Neil Gorsuch was among that list.
At the White House, Justice Gorsuch was sworn-in by Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom Neil Gorsuch once clerked. This is the first time in American history that a justice on the Supreme Court served with another justice for whom they clerked.