In Gorsuch, Trump Saw Plenty of Scalia-Like Qualities

President hopes ‘Democrats and Republicans can come together’ around nominee

President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with Judge Neil Gorsuch after nominating him to the Supreme Court during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday evening. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with Judge Neil Gorsuch after nominating him to the Supreme Court during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday evening. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Posted January 31, 2017 at 9:47pm

President Donald Trump’s own description of what he wanted in a Supreme Court nominee sounded a lot like the late Justice Antonin Scalia. And though he opted for reality show-like drama, Trump made it clear he believes his pick, Neil Gorsuch, would follow Scalia’s example.

Trump, the former “Apprentice” host and executive producer, used some reality television-like flair to announce his pick, keeping Gorsuch and his wife, Louise, sequestered just outside the White House’s East Room. He came out alone, and minutes later, summoned them from behind an ornate brown door.

Despite Trump’s insistence on some dramatics, the prime-time ceremony mostly focused on Gorsuch, his legal background and what Trump — and, later, Republican senators — described as his qualifications to fill the high court’s ninth seat.

The new president said Gorsuch, appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit based in Denver by President George W. Bush in 2006, had the “qualities” that he concluded “closely define what we’re looking for.”

“Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline, and has earned bipartisan support,” Trump said in a room packed with GOP lawmakers, journalists and Trump family members, among others.

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The president who has tried charming Democrats while also harshly criticizing them during his first 11 days in office also presented his nominee as someone Senate Democrats should be able to support.

“When he was nominated to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, he was confirmed by the Senate unanimously — that’s unanimous, can you believe that? Nowadays, with what’s going on?” he said, referring to Washington’s decade of bitter partisanship.

Who is Judge Neil Gorsuch?

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Trump had said in recent television interviews that an ability to garner the necessary 60 votes in the Senate was a standard his eventual nominee had to meet. He clearly believes Gorsuch fits that bill.

“Does that happen anymore? Does it happen? I think it’s going to happen. Maybe it will,” the president said, later adding: “I only hope that both Democrats and Republicans can come together, for once, for the good of the country.”

The more Trump and his aides talked in recent days about the kind of nominee the president wanted, the more clear it became that he was looking for a judge that reminded him of Scalia. After recognizing the late justice’s wife, Maureen, seated in the room on Tuesday, Trump called her “the ultimate representative of the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia.”

He revealed that Scalia’s “image and genius [were] in my mind throughout the decision-making process.” He then praised Gorsuch’s canon of legal writing, calling it “among the finest and most brilliant” of all living judges.

In short, Trump wanted what might be described as Scalia version 2.0, and someone who will sit on the land’s highest court for decades. At one point, he nodded to just that, saying, “Depending on their age, a justice can be active for 50 years and his or her decisions can last a century or more and can often be permanent.”

On both counts, he believes the 49-year-old Gorsuch is just that judge.

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Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a member of the Judiciary Committee that will hold Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings, called the nominee “stellar,” and predicted he will be confirmed.

Another committee member who has criticized Trump, Sen. Lindsey Graham, told reporters in the East Room that “a guy on a three-day drunk” could determine that the judge is qualified. Still, the South Carolina Republican did not rule out a need to nix the chamber’s filibuster to get Gorsuch seated with just 50 votes.

The seat was vacated by the Feb. 13, 2016 death of Scalia, whom Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday dubbed a “devotee” to the Constitution.

“Whomever the president selects,” Spicer said, “will be a worthy successor to the brilliant legal mind and constitutional dedication of Justice Scalia.”

Ultimately, Trump and his team decided Gorsuch was the closest fit to what they were looking for, as described on Jan. 24 by Spicer: “The president has made it incredibly clear that he will appoint justices who protect our liberty and hold the highest regards for the Constitution.”

Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, said, “Gorsuch is probably the most like Scalia.”

“He has a well-thought-out conception of constitutional interpretation and the way that structure protects liberty,” Shapiro said. “He’s most known for his opinions supporting religious liberty and pushing back on the administrative state.”

Another criteria Gorsuch met: a track record that shows he will “follow the law and not to create laws from the bench,” as Spicer said last week.

White House officials realize they need eight Democrats to support Gorsuch’s nomination on the Senate floor, and they’ve heard the opposition party’s threats that anything but a “mainstream” candidate will result in a filibuster — and, perhaps, the kind of permanent blockade that Republicans erected around former President Barack Obama’s final nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.

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“I think it’s pretty mainstream to support the Constitution, pretty mainstream to respect, [and] to follow the law,” Trump’s top spokesman said last week.

The White House, without naming Gorsuch, earlier Tuesday expressed confidence that Republicans and Democrats alike will support his nomination.

Trump and his aides “have met with senators from both side of the aisle to make sure that we understand [the] qualities that they are looking for in the next associate justice,” Spicer said hours before the East Room ceremony. “And I think that we have done a very, very good job of getting a nominee in place … that meets the criteria that they set forth.”

Ultimately, the Trump and his aides, Spicer said, concluded Gorsuch’s “background, time on the bench, [and] expertise … meets the intent of both Republicans and Democrats.”

CATO’s Shapiro noted that Gorsuch “was confirmed unanimously to the 10th Circuit and should not face significant opposition.”