When Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearings began earlier this week, Democrats made it clear that they intended to filibuster his nomination to the Supreme Court. Republicans responded that Gorsuch's nomination would be confirmed regardless, even if it meant using the so-called "nuclear option" to change the rules of the Senate in order to allow the nomination to be passed through with fewer votes. On Thursday, Democrats successfully filibustered Gorsuch's nomination as promised, and the ball is now in the Republican's court. What is a cloture vote? It's the first step the Senate takes to override a filibuster.
The controversy surrounding Gorsuch's nomination by President Donald Trump began well before he was actually nominated. Last year, when then-President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace the seat vacated on the Supreme Court after the death of Anthony Scalia, Republicans prevented the confirmation hearing from happening. Their justification was that an exiting president shouldn't make the nomination, and that it should be up to the incoming president, according to the New York Times. Therefore, they refused to give Garland a hearing and the timeframe in which it would have had to occur ran out, effectively nullifying the nomination and rolling the responsibility over to the next president.
Trump, tasked with the job of appointing a nominee to serve the life-term on the Supreme Court, selected federal judge Neil Gorsuch. While many Democrats certainly do disagree with Gorsuch's views politically, there were many who vowed to filibuster the nomination on principle, because they believed that any Trump nominee would have effectively usurped the seat from Garland. That being said, on Thursday, Democrats successfully filibustered Gorsuch's nomination as promised, according to the New York Times.
Aware that this possibility was likely, Republicans had vowed earlier in the week to invoke the "nuclear option" in response to a filibuster. This allows the Senate's rules to change so that a vote — in this case, a confirmation — can be passed by a fewer number of votes. While this has been done before, it's never been done to accommodate the confirmation of a position like that of a Supreme Court justice, who serves the term for life. Democrats are calling for someone else to be nominated (ideally, Garland) and Republicans want there to be enough bipartisanship in the Senate to allow Gorsuch's nomination to pass, according to CNN.
The Senate will invoke cloture, which will put a time limit on the decision. This is the first step in changing the rules to permit the nomination to pass with fewer than 60 votes, according to the Senate's website. If this happens, it will not only change the rules to allow Gorsuch's nomination to pass, but will be applied to future Senate confirmations of Supreme Court nominees, which will radically change the dynamic of the U.S. Senate, and the foundation of democracy upon which it has been built, according to The Washington Post.
As it stands, invoking cloture and changing the Senate rulebook will have much broader implications than simply approving Gorsuch's confirmation: it may well change the course of U.S. history in ways we can't yet imagine.