WASHINGTON (CN) - Two decades of increasing polarization over judicial nominations reached its apex Friday when the Senate voted by a simple majority mostly along party lines to confirm Neil Gorsuch as the Supreme Court's next associate justice.
Speaking from Florida, President Donald Trump said, "Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation process was one of the most transparent and accessible in history, and his judicial temperament, exceptional intellect, unparalleled integrity, and record of independence makes him the perfect choice to serve on the Nation’s highest court.
"As a deep believer in the rule of law, Judge Gorsuch will serve the American people with distinction as he continues to faithfully and vigorously defend our Constitution," the president said.
The White House said Gorsuch will be sworn in Monday and will participate in oral arguments with his fellow justices beginning in late April.
The Republican-controlled Senate went nuclear Thursday, killing the supermajority 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees to push Gorsuch through after Democrats tried to block his confirmation.
It capped a year of partisan escalation over who would fill the late Antonin Scalia's seat on the high court, and deepened debate over who will shoulder the most blame for the potential fallout of going nuclear.
In his floor speech before Thursday's vote to change the rules, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned that eliminating the 60-vote threshold for a filibuster on a Supreme Court nomination would cut out incentives for presidents to pick moderate judges so long as their party controls the Senate.
"Just as it seemed unthinkable only a few decades ago that we'd change the rules for nominees, today's vote is a cautionary tale about how unbridled partisan escalation can ultimately overwhelm our basic inclination to work together and frustrate our efforts to pull back; blocking us from steering the ship of the Senate away from the rocks," the New York Democrat said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had warned his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee about this in March last year when they refused to consider President Obama's nominee Merrick Garland.
Though Graham has since blamed Democrats for the recent escalation in the fight over judicial nominations, he warned on Monday that the fallout from the rule change could be bad.
"The judges are going to become more ideological because you don’t have to reach across the aisle to get one vote any longer," he had said.
Although hesitant to make a prediction, the Michael O. Sawyer Chair of Constitutional Law and Politics at Syracuse University Dr. Thomas Keck, said Graham could be right.
Calling the nuclear option a "really significant" escalation in the long-term intensification of partisan bickering over the court, Keck said all future justices could be confirmed with much closer party line votes.
"It's at least possible - we don't know how this will play out - but it's at least possible that on both the left and the right you could wind up with more extreme justices," he said in a phone interview.
Noting that Justice Clarence Thomas is the only current member of the high court confirmed with less than 60 votes, Keck positioned the nuclear Gorsuch vote within two decades of increasing polarization over judicial nominations.
Although both sides have escalated the fight at different times, Keck said Republicans might shoulder more responsibility.