After almost a full year of an eight-justice Court, President Donald Trump announced that Neil Gorsuch will be his nominee to fill the Court's vacant seat today. Gorsuch currently sits as a judge on the Tenth Circuit, where he's gained a reputation as a solid conservative in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Here's what you need to know about him.
A Long-Awaited Announcement
In making his announcement, the president praised himself for the "most transparent selection process in history" and described Gorsuch as "the very best judge in the country for the Supreme Court" with "outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline."
The president was clearly impressed with Gorsuch's resume, which includes degrees from Columbia, Harvard Law School, and Oxford, as well as a stint clerking for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. "The qualifications of Judge Gorsuch are beyond dispute," Trump said, describing Gorsuch as the kind of man needed to "ensure the rule of law."
Indeed, the president seemed to get a bit ahead of himself in his enthusiasm, describing Gorsuch as "of the United States Supreme Court" instead of the Tenth Circuit.
Was the pick a surprise? Trump asked. "Was it?"
Speaking to the audience, Gorsuch praised Justice Scalia as a "lion of the law." As many commentators have noted, Gorsuch is the most Scalia-like of the potential nominees under consideration, from his writing style to his textualism. Indeed, their connection was so strong that when Scalia died, Gorsuch learned of the death while skiing. "I'm not embarrassed to admit" that he cried all the way down, he's said. "I miss him," he said today.
Gorsuch went on to discuss the mentors who influenced him, including Justices White and Kennedy and D.C. Circuit Judge David Sentelle. "These judges brought me up in the law," Gorsuch said.
Democrats Vow to Fight Nominee
Gorsuch is likely to face a difficult nomination process. Even before Gorsuch was announced, Democratic leaders pledged to make sure the nominee faces intense scrutiny. "We are not going to settle on a Supreme Court nominee," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this month. "If they don't appoint someone who is really good, we're going to oppose them tooth and nail."
Then yesterday, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon vowed to filibuster any nominee Trump puts forth.
Republicans have denounced any resistance as obstructionism, but those calls aren't gaining much traction after the GOP spent nearly a year blocking President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit, Merrick Garland.
Gorsuch's Important Decisions
With over 10 years on the bench, Gorsuch has plenty of opinions for both supporters and detractors to pour through. Here are three to start with:
In a concurrence to the Tenth Circuit's Hobby Lobby opinion, Gorsuch emphasized that courts need to accept parties' own beliefs regarding their faith "as they understand it," including their determination that a government program forces them to violate their beliefs. That issue remains central to ongoing litigation around the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate exemption procedures, though a repeal of the law may settle the issue before the courts do.
In two dissents from denials of rehearings en banc, Gorsuch argued that the reasonable observer test for Establishment Clause cases led to too great of restrictions on religious individuals participating in public life, such as by displaying the Ten Commandments alongside secular objects in a public display.
Here, Gorsuch authored both the majority opinion and a concurrence in which he explained his own views on administrative law, including a strong attack on judicial deference to administrative agencies. "We managed to live with the administrative state before Chevron," one of the bedrock cases of modern administrative law, Gorsuch wrote. "We could do it again."
"Put simply," he continued "it seems to me that in a world without Chevron very little would change -- except perhaps the most important things."
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