Senate set to approve Trump's Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch

WASHINGTON, April 7 (Reuters) - The Republican-led U.S. Senate was poised on Friday to confirm President Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick, conservative appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, providing the president with his first major victory since taking office in January.

Republicans have a 52-48 Senate majority and all of them support Gorsuch, as do a handful of Democrats. The vote is expected at 11:30 a.m. EDT (1530 GMT) on Friday.

Senate confirmation of Gorsuch, 49, would restore the nine-seat court's 5-4 conservative majority, enable Trump to leave an indelible mark on America's highest judicial body and fulfill a top campaign promise. Gorsuch could be expected to serve for decades, while the Republican Trump could make further appointments to the high court since three of the eight justices are 78 or older.

RELATED: Where SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch stands on key issues

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Where SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch stands on key issues

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch looks on as Senate Judiciary Committee. President Donald Trump has nominated Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court to fill the seat that had left vacant with the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Abortion

Gorsuch has never directly ruled on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S., but he was pressed on the landmark ruling during his Senate confirmation hearing. 

When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Gorsuch what he would have done if President Trump asked him to overturn Roe v. Wade, the judge responded, "I would have walked out the door. It's not what judges do. I don't do it at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue and they shouldn't do it at this end either, respectfully."

Some refer to passages from a book Gorsuch wrote on assisted suicide. In the book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, Gorsuch wrote, "The idea that all human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong."

(Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Second Amendment

Gorsuch has never directly ruled on the Second Amendment. However, during his confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) questioned Gorsuch on District of Columbia v. Heller -- a landmark ruling that overturned a ban on handguns and certain requirements when storing guns in Washington D.C. 

Gorsuch offered limited responses to Feinstein's questioning, but did conclude that Heller was the "law of the land." 

(REUTERS/John Sommers II/File Photo)

Religion

Gorsuch is widely regarded as a strong proponent of religious liberty.

In a landmark ruling, Gorsuch sided with an employer in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case in 2013, making it legal for a non-profit organization to deny employees access to contraceptives if it goes against their religious beliefs. The case ultimately reached the Supreme Court, where it was also ruled in the favor of Hobby Lobby. 

In another case, Gorsuch ruled in favor of a Wyoming inmate. The ruling allowed the inmate to use a prison yard sweat lodge, that he had previously been denied access to, for Native American religious worship.

(Getty)

Immigration

Gorsuch has not hinted to how he feels about President Trump's proposed travel ban, and many experts are split on how the SCOTUS nominee would vote on the executive order that bans immigrants from six majority-Muslim countries. The ban is currently suspended following rulings by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland. 

Gorsuch has sided with immigrants in past cases, and as Cornell University constitutional law professor Michael Dorf noted to the Denver Post -- "Gorsuch’s sympathy for people in religious cases, a general skepticism of executive power and a history of ruling for immigrants give some reason to think he could be sympathetic to plaintiffs challenging a ban on people from certain countries."

(REUTERS/Eric Thayer)

Environment

In the 2015 case Energy and Environment Legal Institute vs. Epel, Gorsuch sided with a Colorado law that requires 20 percentage of electricity sold in the state to be from renewable sources. The case was filed by an out-of-state coal company, claiming the law was a threat to interstate commerce. 

(REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

LGBTQ rights

When pressed about gay rights and strict interpretations of the law by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.) during his confirmation hearing, Gorsuch responded that "no one is looking to return us to horse and buggy days."

"We’re trying to interpret the law faithfully, taking principles that are enduring and a Constitution that was meant to last ages and apply it and interpret it to today’s problems." 

Gorsuch also told the Senate Judiciary Committee, "A good judge starts with precedent and doesn’t reinvent the wheel. So to the extent, there are decisions on these topics — and there are — a good judge respects precedent."

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Marijuana

While Gorsuch does hail from Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, it is still unclear where he stands on the issue.

In 2015, Gorsuch ruled against a dispensary, forcing the company to pay taxes on items they wrote off as business expenses in an effort to avoid incriminating themselves due to a federal law banning marijuana. 

(Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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The expected confirmation would give a boost to Trump. The Republican-led Congress failed to pass legislation he backed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law that was Democratic former President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement. Courts also have blocked Trump's order to stop people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

His administration also has faced questions about any role his associates may have played in Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Trump.

Republicans on Thursday overcame a ferocious Democratic effort to prevent a vote by resorting to a Senate rule change known as the "nuclear option."

They disposed of long-standing rules in order to prohibit a procedural tactic called a filibuster against Supreme Court nominees. That came after Republicans failed by a 55-45 vote to muster the 60-member super-majority needed to end the Democratic filibuster that had sought to deny Gorsuch confirmation to the lifetime post.

SEE ALSO: Trump: 'I think we've had one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency'

The move could make it easier for the Republicans to confirm future Trump nominees, with Democrats left powerless to resist even if he gets a chance to replace the court's senior liberal, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or the court's conservative swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, with much more conservative replacements.

The nine-seat Supreme Court has had a vacancy since conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. Republican Senate leaders refused last year to act on Democratic former President Barack Obama's nominee, appeals court judge Merrick Garland.

A conservative-majority Supreme Court is more likely to support gun rights, an expansive view of religious liberty, abortion regulations and Republican-backed voting restrictions, while opposing curbs on political spending. The court also is likely to tackle transgender rights and union funding in coming years.

Republicans have called Gorsuch superbly qualified and one of the nation's most distinguished appellate judges. They blamed Democrats for politicizing the confirmation process.

Democrats accused Gorsuch of being so conservative as to be outside the judicial mainstream, favoring corporate interests over ordinary Americans in legal opinions, and displaying insufficient independence from Trump.

RELATED: Democrats who voted no on Neil Gorsuch's confirmation

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Democrats who will vote no on Neil Gorsuch's confirmation
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Democrats who will vote no on Neil Gorsuch's confirmation

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (New York)

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Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont)

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Sen. Bob Casey (Pennsylvania)

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Ron Wyden (Oregon)

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 Sen. Patty Murray (Washington)

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) 

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Sen. Jeff Merkley (Oregon) 

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Sen. Tom Carper (Delaware)

 Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin)

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Sen. Bill Nelson (Florida)

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Sen. Cory Booker (New Jersey)

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Sen. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii)

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Sen. Tom Udall (New Mexico) 

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Sen. Jack Reed (Rhode Island)

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Sen. Chris Murphy (Connecticut) 

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island) 

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Tim Kaine, 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, speaks during an event conducted entirely in Spanish, a first for an organized presidential campaign event, in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. Five days from the U.S. presidential election, polls released Thursday showed the race narrowing, with Democrat Hillary Clinton holding on to a slim lead over Republican Donald Trump. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Tim Kaine (Virginia)

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California February 10, 2015. Harris, who is seeking a U.S. Senate seat, addressed a group of school children on Safer Internet Day. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY HEADSHOT PROFILE SOCIETY BUSINESS)

Sen. Al Franken (Minnesota)

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Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Michigan) 

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Sen. Ed Markey (Massachusetts)

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Sen. Chris Van Hollen (Maryland)

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Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Illinois) 

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Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire) 

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Sen. Gary Peters (Michigan)

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Sen. Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire)

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota)

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Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) 

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Sen. Pat Leahy (Vermont)

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Sen. Ben Cardin (Maryland)

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) questions Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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Gorsuch could be sworn in as early as Friday so he can begin preparing for the court's next session of oral arguments, starting on April 17. The court's current term ends in June.

Gorsuch's first official act would be to participate in the court's private conference on April 13, when the justices will consider new cases to hear. There are appeals pending on expanding gun rights to include carrying concealed firearms in public, state voting restrictions that critics say are aimed at reducing minority turnout, and allowing business owners to object on religious grounds to serving gay couples.

On April 19, the court will hear a religious rights case in which a church contends Missouri violated the Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom by denying it funds for a playground project due to a state ban on aid to religious organizations. Gorsuch has ruled several times in favor of expansive religious rights during his decade as a judge.

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