Trump nominates Neil Gorsuch for U.S. Supreme Court justice
Donald Trump announced that Judge Neil Gorsuch is his nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States in a primetime address to the nation Tuesday night.
The 49-year-old Gorsuch, who currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, is a self-professed admirer of the late Antonin Scalia, the conservative Supreme Court justice he would replace.
The Court has been one justice short since Scalia’s death in February 2016. The Republican majority in the Senate refused to consider President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, arguing that Obama’s successor in the Oval Office should be the one to fill the vacancy.
Gorsuch stood beside Trump with his head bowed as the president rattled off the nominee’s impressive credentials: Columbia University, Harvard, Oxford, and prestigious clerkships. “His academic credentials are as good as I’ve ever seen,” Trump said.
Gorsuch took the podium following Trump’s introduction and promised to be a justice who will strictly interpret the law instead of legislating from the bench. “A judge who likes every outcome he gets is likely a bad judge,” he said, obliquely criticizing more-progressive colleagues. He called the U.S. Constitution the greatest “charter of human liberty the world has ever known.”
He also spoke directly to Scalia’s widow and son seated in the front row as he called the late justice a “lion of the law,” adding, “I miss him.” Gorsuch said in a speech last spring that when Scalia died suddenly a few months before, Gorsuch wept.
Trump’s consideration and then selection of the judge was widely celebrated in conservative circles. The National Rifle Association called the nomination “outstanding,” the Federalist Society called Gorsuch “exceptional,” and the National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru called him “a careful and thoughtful judge whose jurisprudence is squarely in the mainstream of legal conservatism.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell led the effort to ensure that Obama did not fill Scalia’s seat with a judge who could have potentially shifted the ideological balance of the court to the left. Obama nominated Garland, widely seen as a centrist judge and lauded in the past by Republicans, but McConnell and his Senate colleagues stonewalled until the presidential election.
As it stands now, the Court is divided 4-4 between progressive and conservative justices. If Trump’s nominee is confirmed by the Senate, he will reinstate the conservative majority as the Court rules on the divisive issues of abortion, voting rights, and immigration. He would also likely be on the bench for quite some time; the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, and Gorsuch is the youngest nominee in 25 years.
Gorsuch has lauded Scalia’s originalist approach, which favors a strict interpretation of the Constitution and the law. Arguably his highest-profile decision involved that arts-and-crafts retail chain Hobby Lobby, which cited religious objections in refusing to provide contraception to employees under the Affordable Care Act. Voting with the majority, Gorsuch sided with the Oklahoma City-based chain. Later, the Supreme Court largely upheld that decision.
The pick drew praise from some Democrats, particularly those who know the judge personally. “Judge Gorsuch is one of the most thoughtful and brilliant judges to have served our nation over the last century,” Obama’s former Solicitor General Neal Katyal said in a statement. “To boot, as those of us who have worked with him can attest, he is a wonderfully decent and humane person.”
Norm Eisen, Obama’s former ethics czar, also tweeted that his Harvard Law School classmate was a “great guy,” but later clarified that he hadn’t taken a position on him as a nominee.
Gorsuch’s road to confirmation is uncertain. In the past, the Senate has been largely deferential to a president’s Supreme Court nominees, and a man like Gorsuch would likely have received substantial bipartisan support. The Senate confirmed Scalia in a 98-0 vote, for example.
But these are not normal times. Democrats are still fuming over the Republicans’ refusal to even give Garland a hearing, and many are itching to filibuster Gorsuch. Some Democratic senators immediately expressed their opposition following the announcement.
Overcoming such a filibuster would require 60 votes, but Republicans currently have only 52, which means they will need to attract Democratic support. Republicans could also avoid courting Democrats by gutting the filibuster rule and then confirming the nominee with a simple majority.
Trump said he favored this approach in an interview with Fox News last week. McConnell, a man who has often praised the traditions of the Senate, has been reluctant to embrace such a scorched-earth strategy. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he has enough Republican votes to prevent changes to the filibuster rules.
In the coming months, the public will find out far more about Gorsuch. They’ll also gain insight into whether the Senate lives up to Gorsuch’s characterization of it Tuesday as the “greatest deliberative body in the world.”