President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced his nomination of U.S. Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, setting up a confirmation showdown with Senate Democrats still upset over how Republicans blocked the last pick.
In a prime-time event broadcast from the East Room of the White House, Trump touted Gorsuch as among the finest and most brilliant legal minds in the country — and a fulfillment of his campaign promise to find the best judge in the country to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Gorsuch, 49, has academic credentials “as good as I have ever seen,” Trump said in the announcement. The president noted that Gorsuch clerked for two Supreme Court justices — Anthony M. Kennedy and Byron White — and gave up a lucrative career at a law firm for public service as a federal judge.
“It is an extraordinary résumé,” Trump said. “The qualifications of Judge Gorsuch are beyond dispute.”
Trump also called on Democrats and Republicans to “come together for once for the good of the country” and confirm Gorsuch, who was approved by voice vote to his seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, based in Denver. That 2006 vote will make it harder for Democrats to oppose his confirmation.
“That’s unanimous. Can you believe that nowadays with what’s going on?” Trump said. “Does that happen any more? I think it’s going to happen maybe again.”
Reaction was swift and filled with skepticism from Senate Democrats, with Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York announcing that Gorsuch would be subject to a 60-vote threshold associated with a filibuster. There are 46 Democratic senators and two independents who caucus with them, so the Senate rule means the minority could stop Gorsuch’s confirmation with 41 votes.
A showdown could lead Senate Republicans to move to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.
The Supreme Court was a Trump focus during the campaign, as he pledged to choose someone who would back Second Amendment rights to possess firearms and who would lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
“Millions of voters said this was the single most important issue for them when they voted for me as president,” Trump said.
If confirmed, Gorsuch would retain the ideological balance on the court that was present before Scalia’s death — a 5-4 advantage for the conservative wing.
As a federal judge, Gorsuch has had a solidly conservative career that has featured rulings on contraception and separation of powers cases. He is known for writing with flair and clarity, two things often attributed to Scalia.
He showcased that wit when accepting the nomination, getting laughs when he said he clerked for White, the last justice from Colorado “and the only justice to lead the NFL in rushing.” Indeed, White played pro football for three years and led the league in rushing in 1938.
Who is Judge Neil Gorsuch?
In what is his best-known case, Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion in the 10th Circuit ruling that backed the retail chain Hobby Lobby over the Obama administration in a fight over the mandate in the 2010 health care law to provide contraceptive coverage for employees.
Gorsuch, a fourth-generation Coloradoan, will add geographic diversity to a Supreme Court now dominated by justices from New York, New Jersey and California.
His nomination also heads to the Senate amid a contentious battle over Trump’s Cabinet picks, with Senate Democrats boycotting some committee votes on nominees and delaying the vote for Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next attorney general.
Democrats contend Trump’s appointments are unqualified or bad, while Republicans say the minority party is having trouble accepting the results of the election.
Schumer said he is concerned Gorsuch has “hewed to an ideological approach” that has had him side with corporations over people and demonstrated a “hostility toward women’s rights.”
“The burden is on Judge Neil Gorsuch to prove himself to be within the legal mainstream and, in this new era, willing to vigorously defend the Constitution from abuses of the executive branch and protect the constitutionally enshrined rights of all Americans,” Schumer said in a statement. “Given his record, I have very serious doubts about Judge Gorsuch’s ability to meet this standard.”
Democrats are still stinging from the failed nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Barack Obama to fill Scalia’s seat more than 300 days ago. Senate Republicans did not allow a committee hearing or confirmation vote for Garland, arguing that the vacancy should be filled by the winner of the presidential election.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were quick to support Gorsuch. Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa called Gorsuch “universally respected across the ideological spectrum as a mainstream judge who applies the law without regard to person or his own preferences.”
“Sen. Schumer is about to tell Americans that Judge Gorsuch kicks puppies and heckles piano recitals. That’s hogwash,” Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse said in a statement. “Democrats are working overtime to cast Judge Gorsuch as a reflexive partisan but, as I said when Justice Scalia died, there are no Republican or Democratic seats on the Supreme Court.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham said at the White House that “a guy on a three-day drunk” could figure out Gorsuch is “one of the most qualified” Supreme Court nominees ever, predicting he will be confirmed. But the South Carolina Republican did not rule out a need to kill the filibuster to put Trump’s pick on the high court.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who was recently under consideration for Cabinet posts in the Trump administration, urged his colleagues to “put partisan politics aside and allow the vetting process to proceed.”
But California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said a meticulous analysis of Gorsuch’s “long record” would take time.
“At a time when public trust in our institutions is at an all-time low and our country is bitterly divided, a thorough and fair review is vitally important,” she said.
Interest groups get ready
The Senate confirmation fight will draw great attention from outside groups interested in the nation’s legal system. The choice of Gorsuch, however, avoids what could have been an even more bruising battle for a nominee with more outspoken opinions on women’s rights issues.
Still, progressive groups voice major concerns. Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron called Gorsuch “a disastrous choice” whose record does not show he would be an independent check on the Trump administration.
“What it does show is that he would put the agenda of powerful special interests ahead of every day people,” Aron said in a statement.
Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the conservative Judicial Crisis Network and a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, said in a statement that she is confident Gorsuch will receive bipartisan support again this time.
“Some Democrats may be tempted to obstruct his nomination, but we have already launched a robust campaign in key states, and we will ultimately force vulnerable senators to choose between obstructing and keeping their Senate seats,” she said.