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U.S. Senate Republicans disarm Democrats' filibuster, confirm Neil Gorsuch to U.S. Supreme Court.

WASHINGTON (April 12, 2017)--The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate dealt a historic double blow to the pro-abortion movement this month.

When Democrats mounted a filibuster in an attempt to block the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, all 52 Senate Republicans voted together to employ the so-called "nuclear option"--changing the chamber's rules to forbid filibusters on this or future nominations to the Supreme Court.

That change allowed the Senate to confirm Gorsuch, 5445, which occurred on April 7. On the confirmation roll call, three Democrats joined a united bloc of Republicans.

Gorsuch was sworn in on April 10, and began participating in Supreme Court deliberations immediately.

Gorsuch fills the seat left vacant by the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, 2016. Immediately following Scalia's death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that the Senate would not act to fill the vacancy until a nominee was submitted by the new president who would be elected in November. Nevertheless, President Obama promptly nominated liberal Judge Merrick Garland.

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Despite harsh criticism from liberal interest groups, the mainstream media, and Senate Democrats, McConnell and the Senate Republicans held fast, taking no action on the Garland nomination, and so the Supreme Court seat was still vacant when President Trump was inaugurated in January 2017.

During his campaign, Trump had released a list of 21 persons, including Gorsuch, and pledged to fill the vacant seat from a name on that list. Trump reportedly adopted the list based on advice from several sources, chief among these Leonard Leo, the longtime executive vice president of the Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal organization.

After personally meeting with several persons on the list, on January 31 Trump announced his pick of Gorsuch. In response to the pick, National Right to Life issued a supportive statement: "As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit since 2006, Gorsuch has not reviewed any state or federal abortion laws. However, he showed support for conscience rights in two cases involving Obama care mandates. He dissented from a ruling hostile to Utah's attempts to curb funding for Planned Parenthood (Planned Parenthood Association of Utah v. Herbert). Gorsuch's 2006 book The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia argued against the legalization of assisted suicide, and defends the idea that 'human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.'"

In the same release, National Right to Life President Carol Tobias commented, "All too often, our efforts to protect unborn children and other vulnerable humans have been overridden by judges who believe they have a right to impose their own policy preferences. We are heartened that Judge Gorsuch appears to share Justice Scalia's view that federal judges are constrained to enforce the text and original intent of constitutional provisions, and on all other matters should defer to democratically elected lawmakers. Pro-life legislators and activists nationwide can have high confidence that as a Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch will not join those who have nullified past efforts to protect the lives of unborn children and other vulnerable humans."

During three days of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in late March, Gorsuch deflected numerous attempts by Democratic senators to elicit his opinions on Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and other past Supreme Court rulings pertaining to abortion, and on other controversial issues. Gorsuch testified in general terms that he believed that Supreme Court precedents on any subject must be afforded respect, but he also noted that it is sometimes appropriate and necessary to overturn precedents.

By the time the hearings were over, it was clear that Democrats were prepared to launch a filibuster to try to prevent Gorsuch's confirmation. That course of action was being loudly demanded by an array of liberal interest groups, including leading pro-abortion advocacy groups such as NARAL. Many liberal groups insisted that the vacant Supreme Court seat had been "stolen" from President Obama's nominee.

Under general Senate rules, it is impossible to bring a matter to an up-or-down vote unless all senators agree, or unless the Senate votes to "invoke cloture," which generally requires affirmative 60 votes (out of 100 senators). However, in 2013, when Democrats controlled the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nv.) had employed a seldom-used parliamentary procedure, now often referred to as the "nuclear option," to change Senate rules to eliminate the right to filibuster presidential nominees, including nominees to the lower federal courts. This change allowed the Democrats to confirm a large number of liberal Obama appointees to federal courts of appeals and district courts during 2013 and 2014.

The 2013 "Reid precedent" contained a single exception --for nominees to the Supreme Court. However, shortly before the 2016 presidential election, both Reid himself and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) said that if Hillary Clinton won the White House and Democrats controlled the Senate, Democrats would again change the rules to prevent any Republican attempt to filibuster a Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court.

On March 31, after it was clear that most Senate Democrats were prepared to support a filibuster against Gorsuch, National Right to Life sent senators a letter urging senators to change the rules to prohibit filibusters on Supreme Court nominees--which the letter characterized as a matter of "overriding importance."

The NRLC letter also strongly supported a positive vote on confirmation: "Based on the evidence available, it appears that Judge Gorsuch is the type of nominee that the abortion advocates fear most--one who will take seriously his oath to defend the Constitution, even when this produces results that may outrage certain elites. They fear that Judge Gorsuch will fail to find in the Constitution any provision that denies a self-governing people the right to fashion laws that recognize the humanity of unborn members of the human family. We agree with that assessment, because there is no such provision to find."

The Senate Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of pro-life Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), approved the nomination on April 3, on a party-line vote of 11-9, and the full Senate took up the nomination the next day. On April 6, an attempt to end debate ("invoke cloture") failed, 55-45, with 60 votes being required under the 2013 "Reid rule." This was the first time in Senate history that a partisan filibuster had blocked an up-or-down vote on a Supreme Court nominee.

However, Majority Leader McConnell immediately "went nuclear," forcing a vote of the Senate on whether to change the rule, which prevailed on a party-line vote of 52-48.

With the 60-vote hurdle removed, the majority quickly curtailed the debate and, the next day, confirmed Gorsuch on a vote of 54-45. The united Republicans were joined by three Democrats on the confirmation vote--Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a Gorsuch supporter, missed the confirmation vote for medical reasons.

(The roll call votes on abolishing the filibuster of Supreme Court nominees and on confirmation of Gorsuch appear on pages 14-15 of this issue.)

In a statement issued after the votes, National Right to Life Senior Policy Advisor Douglas D. Johnson said, "Senator McConnell's successful 'nuclear' motion produced a historic victory for Senate Republicans, the President, and the country--and a huge defeat for a coalition of left-wing groups, led by the abortion lobby, that had relentlessly pressured Democratic senators to filibuster the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch. For decades, liberal senators and interest groups had attacked Republican judicial nominees with procedural and political weapons that Republicans were slow to match. This week, the Republicans took decisive action to restore parity to the judicial confirmation process, and we commend them for it."

Johnson, noting that prominent Democrats such as Kaine and Reid had previously pledged that they would never allow Republicans to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee of a Democratic president, added, "When they voted on the McConnell nuclear option motion, Republican senators really were not deciding whether there should be a 60vote hurdle for nominees to the Supreme Court--rather, they were deciding whether there should be a 60-vote hurdle only for the Supreme Court nominees of Republican presidents."

The "nuclear" rules change means that if another vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court, President Trump's nominee to fill it will be confirmed if he or she garners support from at least 50 senators--so long as the Republicans continue to hold majority control in the Senate. The change has no effect on the "legislative filibuster," referring to the right of senators to filibuster bills and amendments, which is supported by most senators of both parties.

At age 49, Gorsuch is by far the youngest member of the current Supreme Court roster. The oldest justices are Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 84; Anthony Kennedy, 80; and Stephen Breyer, 78. All three voted with the 5-3 pro-abortion majority in the Supreme Court's most recent abortion ruling, Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt, handed down in June 2016, which struck down two Texas laws regulating abortion clinics.

"The next one [vacancy], one way or another, can change the court pretty dramatically," pro-life Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told reporters following the April 6 "nuclear" vote. "For the life of me I don't know why the Democrats made such a fuss about this one [Gorsuch]--they look stupid."

Caption: Nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch, of Colorado, to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
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Publication:National Right to Life News
Date:Apr 1, 2017
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