WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he had chosen Neil Gorsuch, 49, a federal appeals court judge from Denver, to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a town notorious for not keeping secrets, Trump stage-managed a Supreme Court nomination for the masses. When the president walked into a packed East Room at the White House Tuesday night, Washington was not sure whom he had chosen — Gorsuch or Thomas Hardiman, 51, a federal judge whom Trump’s sister, federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry, had recommended to her brother.
“When Justice Scalia passed away suddenly last February,” Trump said, he promised that if elected, he would pick “the very best judge in the country” to succeed the legal lion. With Scalia’s widow Maureen looking on, Trump then named Gorsuch as his replacement.
“Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline, and has earned bipartisan support,” Trump said. “When he was nominated to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, he was confirmed by the Senate unanimously.”
“I am honored and I am humbled and I thank you very much,” Gorsuch, flanked by his wife Louise, said after Trump announced his choice.
Gorsuch then thanked the mentors in his legal career starting with former Justice Byron White, “the last Coloradan to serve on the Supreme Court.” Gorsuch clerked for White, as well as Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Gorsuch described as welcoming and generous.
The Kennedy connection is key as Kennedy often provides the swing vote in the nine-judge court. Jeffrey Rosen of the National Constitution Center told Politico that Gorsuch is the person “likely to be the most effective conservative nominee in terms of winning over” Kennedy and forging conservative decisions on the court.
The Gorsuch nomination “is a great pick and a safe pick,” former George W. Bush attorney John Yoo opined. “It’s the most conservative person who could get confirmed.”
“It’s very hard to see how the left is going to ‘Bork’ him,” said Yoo, now a University of California, Berkeley law professor, in a reference to the harsh vetting that killed the 1987 nomination of Judge Robert Bork.
Gorsuch served for two years in George W. Bush’s Department of Justice before Bush nominated him to the appeals court. His mother was Anne Gorsuch Burford, who was head of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Reagan administration.
He also was among the 21 possible choices for the court Trump released during the campaign.
Jonathan Turley, a Georgetown law professor and frequent critic of Trump, wrote for The Hill, “Gorsuch is unassailable in his experience, intellect, and demeanor.” After a drama-filled start in the Oval Office, Turley noted, Trump showed “he could find the strike zone in American politics.”
University of California, Irvine School of Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky wrote in an email that he sees Gorsuch as “unquestionably qualified to be a Supreme Court justice, but the question is whether his views are so conservative to put him outside the judicial mainstream.”
Chemerinsky cautioned, “A close examination of Gorsuch’s writings and the confirmation hearings will be key in Senate Democrats deciding whether to filibuster him.”
Expect Democratic Senators to question Gorsuch closely about his support for Hobby Lobby in the retailer’s attempt to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate because of the owner’s religious beliefs.
Even before Trump announced his choice, some Democrats were threatening to block Trump’s choice with a filibuster, just as Republicans blocked a vote on Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s pick to succeed Scalia.
“This is a stolen seat,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., told Politico. “This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat. We will use every lever in our power to stop this.”
Republicans will counter that it is hard to frame Gorsuch as extreme when he was so uncontroversial that the Senate confirmed him by voice vote in 2006. “That’s unanimous, can you believe that? Nowadays with what’s going on,” Trump marveled. “Does that happen anymore? Does it happen? I think it’s going to happen. Maybe it will.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.