Judge Neil Gorsuch stands out as exceptionally bright, even among the legal minds that make it onto the nation’s federal courts. Now, he is President Donald Trump’s pick to be a Supreme Court justice.
Gorsuch, 49, was appointed by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit based in Denver. He has had a solidly conservative career as a federal judge that features rulings on contraception and separation of powers cases.
Before the Senate confirmed Gorsuch with a voice vote in 2006, Republican Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado called his résumé one of “an appellate judge-in-training.”
Gorsuch is a fourth-generation Coloradoan whose grandfather started a successful Denver law firm. His mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, served in the Colorado legislature before she became the first woman to lead the EPA in 1981 during the Reagan administration.
A former Senate page, Gorsuch went to Columbia University as an undergraduate. He went on to Harvard for law school and Oxford University for a doctorate in legal philosophy. The nominee clerked for two Supreme Court justices — Anthony M. Kennedy and Byron White, a Coloradoan.
Gorsuch also worked in private practice at a Washington law firm and then served near the top of the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration.
“His academic pedigree is exceptional, to put it mildly,” said John Malcolm, director of the legal center at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “He is an outstanding writer, he writes very clearly and with a sense of humor.”
Conservative legal experts say those qualities, along with his history of decisions from the bench, show his potential to follow in the footsteps of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who left a lasting imprint on the nation’s legal landscape during his 30 years on the Supreme Court.
Who is Judge Neil Gorsuch?
Religious freedom rulings
In what is his best-known case, Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion in the 10th Circuit opinion that backed the retail chain Hobby Lobby over the Obama administration in a fight over the 2010 health care law mandate to provide contraceptive coverage for employees.
He wrote that some seek guidance from religious faith on questions of moral culpability, such as the owners of Hobby Lobby, who said the mandate forced them to assist in ending life that begins at conception.
“All of us face the problem of complicity,” Gorsuch wrote. “All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others.”
The Supreme Court agreed with that 10th Circuit ruling in a 5-4 decision in 2014. Gorsuch also dissented from a 10th Circuit ruling that sided with an atheist group when it came to putting crosses on the side of Utah highways, another decision that addresses religious freedom.
Gorsuch has a wife and two children. He said he was “taking a breather in the middle of a ski run with little on my mind but the next mogul field when my phone rang with the news” that Scalia had died on Feb. 13, 2016.