“I pledge that if I am confirmed I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws,” Gorsuch said at an East Room ceremony, after being introduced by Trump.
Gorsuch, 49, is viewed as a reliable conservative and originalist with a strong pedigree who can fulfill expectations on the right of who would best succeed Antonin Scalia, who died in February. Gorsuch, if confirmed, will restore the high court’s balance, 5-4 in favor of conservatives, with Justice Anthony Kennedy at times a swing vote.
Gorsuch’s views on abortion are thought to be pro-life, but they are not as well defined as some of Trump’s other prospects. He sided with Hobby Lobby in their challenge to an Affordable Care Act directive requiring employers provide coverage for contraception. He also has made decisions favoring gun rights, and has targeted sweeping class actions.
Ramesh Ponnuru wrote in the National Review earlier on Tuesday that Gorsuch is someone “whose legal philosophy is remarkably similar to that” of Scalia. Legal scholars have noted for weeks the similar philosophies of the two, and Gorsuch admitted in a speech last year that when he heard that Scalia’s passing, he was skiing, and he cried as he made his way down the mountain.
He has served on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado since 2006, and is an adjunct law professor at the University of Colorado. He grew up in Colorado and is an avid outdoorsman — but holds degrees from Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford. At Harvard Law School, he was in the same class as former President Barack Obama.
Gorsuch’s mother, Anne Gorsuch, served as EPA administrator under President Ronald Reagan, and he clerked for justices Byron White and Kennedy.
He has expressed skepticism over a past Supreme Court decision, in a case involving Chevron, that gave deference to federal agencies when interpreting statutes. That could prove important in media-related cases involving the FCC, particularly those brought by companies challenging regulations. The new Republican majority could sidestep litigation on issues such a net neutrality.
He also sided with the media in a significant First Amendment case, ruling in 2011 in favor of A&E Networks in a defamation case brought by a prison inmate who sued the network for airing a documentary that labeled him as a member of an Aryan Brotherhood gang when he was merely assisting them.
As legal scholars scanned Gorsuch’s record as it was clear that he was on Trump’s final list, pundits made much of the way that the president made the reveal — in a primetime announcement. Earlier in the day, CNN had reported that Gorsuch and another candidate for the court, Thomas Hardiman, an appellate judge from Pittsburgh, were being brought to Washington for the event, drawing more attention to the unconventional way that Trump was rolling out his selection. CNN even tracked down Hardiman at a Bedford, Pa., gas station, where he was filling up, but he declined comment. Later, there were reports that only one of his potential picks actually made it to D.C., further confusing the situation and, perhaps pleasing to Trump and his team, heightening the anticipation.
“So was that a surprise? Was it?” Trump asked after introducing Gorsuch.
In his remarks at the ceremony, Gorsuch talked of his philosophy of keeping his personal beliefs out of jurisprudence. “A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is likely a bad judge,” he said.
The White House had originally said that Trump’s pick would be announced on Thursday, but that was moved up by two days. The timing may have been intentional, as Trump weathers criticisms and protests over his signing of an executive order banning entry from seven countries and restricting refugee immigration. The rollout maximized interest, and in a setting that belied the image of a fledgling administration in a certain state of chaos.
Moreover, the broadcast networks each preempted their programming for the 15-minute announcement.
Although Trump avoided more controversial choices, like William Pryor, an appellate judge in the 11th Circuit, he still may face a turbulent confirmation process. If confirmed, Gorsuch would fill a seat that has been vacant for nearly a year after congressional Republicans refused to hold a hearing on Obama’s selection, Merrick Garland.
“I only hope that Democrats and Republican can come together for once for the good of the country,” he said.
But Democrats are upset over the GOP’s actions in blocking Garland. It was unclear whether Democrats would try to block the nomination of Gorsuch as payback, even at the risk of Republicans ending the filibuster.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, via Twitter, “Now more than ever, we need a Justice who is independent, eschews ideology, who will preserve our democracy and protect fundamental rights. We also need a SCOTUS justice who will stand up to a President who has already shown a willingness to bend the Constitution. Gorsuch put corps over workers, been hostile toward women’s rights & been an ideolog. Skeptical that he can be a strong, independent Justice.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said that she was “troubled” by the nomination, while Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) called it a “stolen seat” and that he would “do everything in my power to stand up against this assault on the Court.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is up for re-election next year in a state that Trump won, said that he would oppose the nomination.
“The people of Ohio deserve Supreme Court Justices who will defend the rights of working families over Wall Street and corporate special interests, and Judge Gorsuch’s record doesn’t pass that test,” he said in a statement. “I cannot support any nominee who does not recognize that corporations are not people.”
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said that “with Judge Gorsuch, the stakes couldn’t be higher when it comes to women and our lives. Gorsuch represents an existential threat to legal abortion in the United States and must never wear the robes of a Supreme Court justice.” NARAL cited Gorsuch’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case.
Also citing that decision was Rachel Tiven, the CEO of Lambda Legal, and LGBT rights organization. “We absolutely must not confirm a Supreme Court nominee who has ruled that the religious beliefs of employers can trump the law,” she said. “It is a short hop from birth control restrictions to restrictions on the intimate relationships and health care needs of LGBT people.”