Abe Fortas, whose nomination by Nixon to be chief justice was blocked in 1968. Federal court nominations have become increasingly contentious since then. Republicans filibustered many of Clinton’s nominees, leaving vacancies for the next administration to fill. Seven nominations during George W. Bush’s administration were threatened with filibusters and slowed considerably. However, 14 moderate senators worked together then to prevent the use of the nuclear option by Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Under Obama, Republicans had used the filibuster to block 59 executive branch appointments and 17 non-Supreme Court judicial appointments. As a result, the Democrats, under Majority Leader Harry Reid, deployed the “nuclear option” for non-Supreme Court nominations.
The Republicans blocked hearings–not just a vote on the nomination–for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, for hundreds of days. Obama’s nominee was well-regarded by Republican senators well prior to Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February of 2016. The Republican maneuver was successful, however, and Gorsuch is now up for the same seat.
With the large number of Democrats committed to supporting a filibuster of Gorsuch, McConnell has threatened to use the nuclear option to secure the seat for Gorsuch, saying, “What I’m telling you is that Judge Gorsuch is going to be confirmed. The way in which that occurs is in the hands of the Democratic minority.”