Known for his bedrock conservative values, Gorsuch could tip the balance on hot-button issues such as abortion, voting rights and religious equality
President Donald Trump has nominated circuit court judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant seat on the US supreme court, setting up a showdown with congressional Democrats and activists over a pick that could shape the ideological bent of the court for a generation.
Gorsuch, 49, the youngest supreme court nominee in 25 years, was among a group of federal judges reported in recent weeks to be on Trumps shortlist. A strict adherent of judicial restraint known for sharply-written opinions and bedrock conservative views, Gorsuch, a Colorado native, is popular among his peers and is seen as having strong backing among Republicans generally.
The nomination landed at a moment of sharply-increasing alarm amongst progressives that the Trump administration plans to pursue extremist policies on core questions likely to come before the court, from religious equality to abortion rights, voting rights, access to healthcare, LGBT rights, anti-discrimination protections and more.
Announcing his pick in the White Houses East Room, Trump described reading Gorsuchs writings closely, as Gorsuch stood next to Trump listening with a fixed expression of earnest concern, holding his wife, Louise, in one arm.
His academic credentials … are as good as I have ever seen, Trump said.
Several Democrats responded to the announcement by signaling they were prepared to block the nomination with a filibuster.
Make no mistake, Senate Democrats will not simply allow but require an exhaustive, robust, and comprehensive debate on Judge Gorsuchs fitness to be a supreme court justice, said Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
If Democrats refuse to support Gorsuch, Republicans could decide to change the Senate rules to confirm him. But many Republicans are wary of this move, and are hopeful vulnerable Democrats will come around.
Republicans were effusive in their praise of Gorsuch, calling him highly qualified, universally respected and, above all, mainstream. Theres nothing not to like about Neil Gorsuch, said Jeff Flake of Arizona. Even more enthusiastic praise came from Ben Sasse of Nebraska who told the Guardian that Gorsuch is the kind of person that the founders envisioned sitting on the supreme court.
Girding for a battle, Democrats called him unacceptable and extreme. Many Democrats are particularly bitter about the confirmation process after Republicans refusal last year to consider the nomination of circuit court judge Merrick Garland, Obamas selection to replace Scalia. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell argued at the time that it would be inappropriate for a departing president 11 months remained in Obamas term to make such a significant and long-term appointment.
This is a stolen seat being filled by an illegitimate and extreme nominee, and I will do everything in my power to stand up against this assault on the Court, said Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon who has said he is committed to blocking the nominee.
The Democratic National Committee said Gorsuchs nomination raises some very serious questions about whether he would be an independent and impartial justice, and noted that Trumps litmus test for a nominee was a person who is pro-life and would overturn Roe v Wade.
Trumps nominee has the potential to tip the court one way or the other on important questions. If confirmed, Gorsuch would return the court to nine justices, filling a seat left vacant since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.
Working for the last year with an even number of justices, the court issued split 4-4 decisions on high-stakes questions such as the protection of undocumented immigrants and the health of public unions, leaving lower court rulings in place.
The next justice to be confirmed may break such ties, giving new strength to the courts conservative bloc, which could be further buttressed by future Trump nominations in the case of the retirement or death of a justice. One of the four liberal-leaning justices on the court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, turns 84 in March. Justice Anthony Kennedy, a centrist on the court who has sometimes split tie votes for the progressive wing, is 80 years old.