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Senate Confirms Neil Gorsuch To Serve On Supreme Court


At the Capitol today...


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The ayes are 54. The nays are 45. The nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch is confirmed.

SIEGEL: The Senate voted largely along party lines to confirm President Donald Trump's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. NPR's Carrie Johnson has more.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Only three Democrats voted to support Neil Gorsuch after a political tug of war that prompted Republican lawmakers to change the Senate rules. The longtime appeals court judge from Colorado will be sworn in Monday as the 113th justice to serve on the Supreme Court. The Gorsuch confirmation caps a saga that began with the death of conservative Antonin Scalia more than a year ago in February 2016.

ILYA SHAPIRO: I think he's like Scalia in many ways that made Scalia great, with originalism and textualism and a scholarly erudition.

JOHNSON: Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute.

SHAPIRO: On the highest profile cases that break down 5 to 4, the areas where Scalia was in the majority, I'm pretty sure Gorsuch will be and vice versa.

JOHNSON: Many left-leaning interest groups oppose the nomination. They say Gorsuch ducked questions about the scope of abortion rights and LGBT issues during his confirmation hearing. Elizabeth Wydra of the Constitutional Accountability Center says Gorsuch selects which parts of the law he wants to respect.

ELIZABETH WYDRA: We think that all judges should look to the text and history of the Constitution. But what we are concerned with is whether he will follow all parts of the Constitution, in particular those parts that were added in the 19th and 20th centuries that made our Constitution more equal, more just, more free and pushed us further down an arc of progress.

JOHNSON: Gorsuch will start his new job in time to have a major impact. Wydra points out there are about a dozen cases remaining in this term and more to consider for the next one.

WYDRA: He will jump right into two areas of the law that Donald Trump actually promised would be a litmus test for whoever he put forward as a nominee to the Supreme Court. That's evangelical religious liberty and gun rights.

JOHNSON: In the next week, the justices will meet privately to decide whether to hear appeals in a pair of gun cases. The first case asks whether the Second Amendment right to keep handguns for self-defense extends outside a person's home. The second covers long-term bans on possessing firearms for people convicted of crimes. And then there's a religious liberty case from Missouri. Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute says it's among the most important the high court will hear this term.

SHAPIRO: That case is called Trinity Lutheran Church versus Comer. It involves funding for recycled tires used for playground protection, and a church there was denied access to this program because it's a church. It otherwise qualifies.

JOHNSON: As a lower court judge, Gorsuch routinely voted to uphold religious freedom claims. Shapiro says he thinks the newest justice will find the government may not treat religious entities different from non-religious, siding with other conservatives on the court to hand the church what could be a decisive victory in his first weeks on the bench. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF VETIVER SONG, "CONFIDING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.