Tuesday, January 31, 2017
New Supreme Court Designee Announced
WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday nominated Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge in Denver, to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, elevating a jurist whose conservative bent and originalist philosophy fit the mold of the man he would succeed.
Mr. Trump’s announcement, delivered during prime time in the East Room of the White House, marked his first bid to reshape the nation’s highest court.
It presaged a bitter political battle on Capitol Hill, where Democrats in the Senate, still stung by the Republican refusal to confirm President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat, Judge Merrick B. Garland, have promised stiff resistance.
If confirmed, Judge Gorsuch would restore the 5-to-4 split between liberals and conservatives on the court, handing Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, 80, who votes with both blocs, the swing vote.
At 49, Judge Gorsuch is the youngest nominee to the Supreme Court in 25 years, underscoring his potential to shape major decisions for decades to come. In choosing him, Mr. Trump reached for a reliably conservative figure in the Scalia tradition but not someone known to be divisive.
A Colorado native who was in the same class at Harvard Law School as Mr. Obama, Judge Gorsuch is known for his well-written, measured opinions that are normally, though not exclusively, conservative. He holds a Ph.D. from Oxford University, where he was a Marshall Scholar, and a pedigree as a law clerk at the Supreme Court to Justices Byron R. White and Kennedy. President George W. Bush nominated Judge Gorsuch to the federal bench in 2006.
Judge Gorsuch’s personal connections to Justice Kennedy are no accident. By choosing a familiar figure, several officials said, the White House is sending a reassuring signal to Justice Kennedy, 80, who has been mulling retirement.
Choosing a more ideologically extreme candidate, the officials said, could tempt Justice Kennedy to hang on to his seat for several more years, depriving Mr. Trump of another seat to fill.
Still, Judge Gorsuch’s conservative credentials are not in doubt. He has voted in favor of employers, including Hobby Lobby, who invoked religious objections for refusing to provide some forms of contraception coverage to their female workers. And he has criticized liberals for turning to the courts rather than the legislature to achieve their policy goals.
There had been speculation that Mr. Trump would choose someone with a less elite background for the court. The other finalist for the post, Judge Thomas M. Hardiman, was the first person in his family to graduate from college, and helped pay for his education by driving a taxi.
Judge Gorsuch, on the other hand, is the son of Anne Gorsuch Burford, who became the first female head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Ronald Reagan. He attended Georgetown Preparatory School, outside Washington, before going to Columbia University.
Democrats, who declined invitations from Mr. Trump to attend the White House announcement ceremony, seemed unlikely to be satisfied with Mr. Trump’s choice. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, has said he is ready to block any candidate he sees as outside the mainstream, a stance that could touch off a Senate showdown in which Mr. Trump is already urging Republicans to change longstanding rules and push through his nominee on a simple majority vote.
Judge Gorsuch will need to draw the support of eight Democrats to join the 52 Republicans in the Senate to surmount a filibuster and move forward with an up-or-down confirmation vote.
Progressive groups were already planning a rally in front of the court on Tuesday night, anticipating an “extreme” nominee.
“Activists will make clear that the Senate cannot confirm a nominee who will simply be a rubber stamp for President Trump’s anticonstitutional efforts that betray American values,” according to a statement from the organizations, which include People for the American Way, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Naral Pro-Choice America.
Conservative groups, too, were planning a major push to defend Mr. Trump’s nominee. Within minutes of the president’s announcement, organizers said, the Judicial Crisis Network was to begin the first phase in a $10 million television advertising campaign on the nominee’s behalf, along with a website promoting Mr. Trump’s pick. More than 50 groups were backing the effort, including gun rights and anti-abortion rights activists and the Tea Party.