Nuclear option reveals cracks in congress

In this photo provided by the Public Information Office Supreme Court of the U.S., Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., and fellow justices watch as Neil Gorsuch signs the Constitutional Oath after Roberts administered the Constitutional Oath in a private ceremony, Monday, April 10, 2017, in the Justices' Conference Room at the Supreme Court in Washington.  (Franz Jantzen/ AP)

On April 10, President Donald Trump fulfilled one of the biggest promises he made on his campaign for office: to appoint at least one new Supreme Court justice. The Senate confirmed Judge Neil M. Gorsuch just last week, and as of the beginning of this week, he was named the 113th justice of the Supreme Court. Despite Trump’s eventual triumph in the nomination, the road to confirming Gorsuch was not an easy one, and could only be completed when the nuclear option was invoked.

The nuclear option is effectively an alternate method of getting something approved in the Senate. Typically, to get something approved by the Senate it must be voted on by the supermajority, or 60 out of 100 members. However, since neither of the major parties has a majority of 60 seats in the Senate, this number can sometimes be hard to attain. That is where the idea of the nuclear option comes in. With the nuclear option, instead of needing to attain the supermajority to reach a decision, it is only required to have a simple majority vote in order to have an affirmed decision. This means the result can be close, and even a 51-49 verdict can still end in a confirmation.

While it is rarely used and often not even spoken about during Senate deliberations, the nuclear option can actually be traced back to 1917, when it was concluded that the Constitution allowed a new Senate to disregard past procedures and essentially choose their own way of coming to decisions. Despite its long existence, the nuclear option has only been threatened a handful of times and has only been fully executed one other time. In 2013, Senate Democrats resorted to this method in order to end filibusters against certain executive and judicial nominees of the Obama Administration. However, this method was never used in order to appoint a Supreme Court nominee until now.

Last Friday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell enacted the nuclear option, thus confirming Gorsuch with a 54-45 vote. This is a large step for Congress; and while it does not mean that all lawmaking will be devoid of a supermajority vote, it sets a precedent for what could come. Unfortunately for Senate Republicans, it has also left a bad taste in the mouth of many Americans.

This decision has not only caused issues in the Senate, but it has also gone against the idea of what a Supreme Court justice nominee should be. While it is undeniable that Gorsuch is qualified for the position, this process has made it clear that he is not free of political biases like a judge should be. While it is nearly impossible for anyone involved with the government to be totally void of partisan influences, this extra step taken in confirming the judge has made it obvious which side his opinions are aligned with.

The Republicans may have gotten their way with the outcome of this nomination, but it has come to them at a cost. The nuclear option was offered up after the Democrats initiated a filibuster against Gorsuch in order to deny him the supermajority vote. By enacting the nuclear option in order to counteract the effects of this filibuster, the Senate has shown just how dysfunctional Washington currently is. The New York Times even went so far as to say that the enactment of this rule was childish, stating that the decision “discarded longstanding rules meant to ensure mature deliberation and bipartisan cooperation in considering Supreme Court nominees”.

Despite being a naturally divided group, our Senate should be able to cooperate and work together for the good of the people. As they are unwilling to allow the proper deliberation that should coincide with any major decision, especially one that could have an effect far beyond the reaches of this administration, they have revealed a clear weakness in the government under Trump’s command.

While, in theory, there is nothing wrong with Gorsuch’s confirmation, the process has revealed a side of congress that is uncompromising and fraught with discord. While our country is supposed to effectively work together toward a collective goal, the use of the nuclear option in this situation has only shown that when the going gets tough, we decide to take the easy way out.


Emma Hungaski is an opinion contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.hungaski@uconn.edu.