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Trump Picks Religious Liberty Defender Gorsuch for Supreme Court

February 1, 2017, 2:03 AM UTC

President Trump on Tuesday nominated Neil Gorsuch, a 49-year-old appeals court judge from Denver, to fill a Supreme Court seat that has sat vacant since the sudden death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia nearly one year ago.

Gorsuch is known for his impeccable academic credentials and as a proponent of originalism, a legal philosophy that proponents say requires judges to interpret laws the way the Founding Fathers would have done.

The nominee is also known as a strident conservative, most notably on issues involving religion and birth control. In high profile cases called Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor that eventually reached the Supreme Court, Gorsuch sided with religious employers who opposed having to make contraception available as part of workers’ health insurance. He has also written extensively about legal issues surrounding assisted suicide.

While long rumored to be on the president’s short list, Gorsuch did not fit the bill in one respect: Like all the other current Supreme Court justices, Gorsuch has an Ivy League background, including a law degree from Harvard—a point of contention for some conservatives, who wanted Trump to nominate someone who didn’t go to an elite school.

Trump’s announcement, which came on prime-time TV, followed a day of pageant-like build that included bringing both Gorsuch and another rumored nominee to Washington, D.C., in an apparent effort to create suspense. Ordinarily, Supreme Court nominations are announced during the day with little hoopla. In revealing his pick, Trump boasted that the process would be the “most transparent” in history.

The president also made a rare call for bipartisanship, urging both parties to speedily confirm Gorsuch, whose credentials he described as beyond dispute.

“I only hope Democrats and Republicans can come together, for once, for the good of the country,” said Trump.

Meanwhile, Gorsuch made a short speech of his own, describing Scalia as a “lion of the law” as he stood beside his wife, and while the late judge’s widow sat in the audience. He also cited his faith, and vowed to interpret the law as it is written.

“A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is likely a bad judge,” said Gorsuch, saying he did not approving of judge’s stretching the law for their own ends.

Confirmation Battle Looming

Trump’s announcement is, of course, only the first step in what many expect to be a bruising battle to confirm the new Supreme Court justice. Democrats are eager to signal their opposition to the president’s agenda, and many are still angry over the refusal of Republicans in the Senate to even hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, a widely-respected moderate.

The Democrats, however, have sent mixed signals as to what tactics they will pursue. While some reports this week suggested some Democrats would filibuster any Trump pick, party leaders have also indicated they would subject the nominee to close scrutiny instead.

Gorsuch may present a dilemma for Democrats in that he has a staunchly conservative record that will be unpalatable for many liberals. But on the other hand, he is not seen by Democrats to being as extreme as other rumored candidates such as William Pryor Jr. of Alabama. The White House can also point to his academic credentials and that the Senate appointed him without opposition to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Democrats may also calculate that it is best to keep their powder dry for now since Gorsuch’s arrival is unlikely to tilt the court’s majority on issues like abortion or affirmative action. Prior to Scalia’s death, the Justices voted 5-4 to uphold both those issues — the result would almost surely be the same with Gorsuch on the court. This would change, of course, if Trump is able to name another justice.

In the event Senate Democrats do decide to filibuster, it could trigger a major political showdown, and raise the prospect of Republicans using their majority to eliminate the need for 60 votes to confirm a Supreme Court nominee.