The majority of Senate Democrats were put in a giant timeout Thursday as Senate Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, exercised the “nuclear option” in order to end a lengthy filibuster by Democrats to block the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
The move gives the Senate the ability to confirm Gorsuch with a simple majority of 51 yeas rather than 60, as previously required.
Gorsuch's confirmation hearing began March 20, and Democrats have been blocking the confirmation ever since. By the time Thursday rolled around, the Democratic filibuster had been going on and on for several days, reaching its peak Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), clogged up the Senate floor for 15 hours in opposition to Gorsuch's confirmation.
The final vote to confirm Gorsuch is expected to take place Friday.
While it's never been used to confirm a SCOTUS nominee before, the use of the so-called "nuclear option" isn't unprecedented. Back in 2013, Senate Democrats, led by former Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, used the nuclear option in an attempt to end most filibusters against presidential cabinet nominations, allowing former President Barack Obama's picks to be confirmed by a simple 51-vote majority.
For more detailed information on the "nuclear option" process, here's a pretty good explainer.