Supreme Court Nominations

Trump nominates Judge Neil Gorsuch to Supreme Court

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Neil Gorsuch

Judge Neil Gorsuch.

Updated: President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday evening that he is nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump said his nomination of Gorsuch fulfilled his pledge to find a judge who respects the laws, loves the Constitution, and will interpret them as they are written. Gorsuch “has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline and earned bipartisan support” when he was nominated to the 10th Circuit, Trump said. “He could have had any job at any law firm for any amount of money,” but Gorsuch chose to become a judge, Trump said.

Taking the podium, Gorsuch praised Scalia as “a lion of the law” and spoke about the need for judges to uphold the rule of law, respect the role of Congress and refrain from essentially rewriting the law.

“When we judges don our robes,” Gorsuch said, “it doesn’t make us any smarter. But it does serve as a reminder of what’s expected of us: impartiality, independence, collegiality and courage.” A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge, he said, because the judge stretches for the results he prefers rather than those the law demands.

Gorsuch, 49, is known for strong academic credentials, clear writing and an originalist philosophy that put him in the mold of Scalia. Indeed, a study of finalists on Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist rated high for being “Scalia-like.” The study was based on three variables: adherence to originalism, citations of Scalia’s nonjudicial writings, and willingness to express views by writing separate opinions.

An analysis by SCOTUSblog found “downright eerie” parallels between Gorsuch and Scalia. According to the blog, Gorsuch “is an ardent textualist (like Scalia); he believes criminal laws should be clear and interpreted in favor of defendants even if that hurts government prosecutions (like Scalia); he is skeptical of efforts to purge religious expression from public spaces (like Scalia); he is highly dubious of legislative history (like Scalia); and he is less than enamored of the dormant commerce clause (like Scalia).”

Gorsuch, a Harvard law school graduate, formerly clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony M. Kennedy. He also has a PhD in legal philosophy from Oxford University.

After Trump made his announcement, ABA President Linda A. Klein released a statement about the important place that the ABA’s independent Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has had since the Eisenhower administration in vetting U.S. Supreme Court nominees. She also detailed the extensive process the committee goes through when considering nominees.

“The nomination of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is a significant action for our nation,” Klein wrote. “As with any lifetime appointment to the federal courts, it is critical that as much information as possible about a nominee be made available to the public and to the U.S. Senate as it considers confirmation. … The ABA looks forward to again engaging in the process to ensure that the Senate can make an informed decision about the professional qualifications of this and future Supreme Court nominees.”

Trump’s prime-time announcement came after he reportedly summoned Gorsuch and another finalist, Judge Thomas Hardiman of the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to Washington, D.C., in advance of the announcement. A source had told CNN and a senior Trump administration official had told the New York Times that the aim was to build suspense and keep Trump’s choice a secret. Comments on social media compared the finalist showdown to The Apprentice or even The Bachelor, the Washington Post reports.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer denied the report about Hardiman, however, CNN later reported. “The reality is that to the best of my knowledge he never left the state of Pennsylvania,” Spicer said. Sources acknowledged to CNN that they left the impression that Hardiman was coming to Washington.

Some Democratic senators have said they will try to block a vote on Trump’s nominee since former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, never got a Senate vote after Obama nominated him in March 2016.

Updated at 8:05 a.m. to report that Sean Spicer denied Hardiman traveled to Washington.

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