Trump picks conservative judge Gorsuch for U.S. Supreme Court

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By Lawrence Hurley and Steve Holland | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON President Donald Trump on Tuesday
nominated Neil Gorsuch for a lifetime job on the U.S. Supreme
Court, picking the 49-year-old federal appeals court judge to
restore the court’s conservative majority and help shape rulings
on divisive issues such as abortion, gun control, the death
penalty and religious rights.

The Colorado native faces a potentially contentious
confirmation battle in the U.S. Senate after Republicans last
year refused to consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s
nominee to fill the vacancy caused by the February 2016 death of
conservative justice Antonin Scalia.

Gorsuch is the youngest nominee to the nation’s highest
court in more than a quarter century, and he could influence the
direction of the court for decades.

Announcing the selection at the White House flanked by the
judge and his wife, Trump said Gorsuch’s resume is “as good as
it gets.” Trump said he hopes Republicans and Democrats can come
together on this nomination for the good of the country.

“Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant
mind, tremendous disciple, and has earned bipartisan support,”
Trump said.

“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,” Trump added.

Gorsuch is a judge on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals and was appointed to that post by Republican
President George W. Bush in 2006.

Some Democrats in the U.S. Senate, which votes on whether to
confirm judicial nominees, have already said they would seek to
block whoever Trump nominates.

Gorsuch is considered a conservative intellectual, known for
backing religious rights, and is seen as very much in the mold
of Scalia, a leading conservative voice on the court for
decades.

“I respect … the fact that in our legal order it is for
Congress and not the courts to write new laws,” Gorsuch said, as
Trump looked on. “It is the role of judges to apply, not alter,
the work of the people’s representatives. A judge who likes
every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge, stretching
for results he prefers rather than those the law demands.”

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said the choice of Gorsuch was seen by the White
House as a significant departure from Supreme Court nominations
from the recent past, given that many justices have come from
the eastern United States. Gorsuch lives in Boulder, Colorado,
where he raises horses and is a life-long outdoorsman.

The official described Gorsuch as a mainstream judge who
should easily be confirmed by the Senate. The official noted
that the Senate confirmed him for his current judgeship in 2006
by voice vote with no one voting against him.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said that “the Senate owes
the American people a thorough and unsparing examination of this
nomination,” saying Trump “outsourced this process to far-right
interest groups.”

The liberal advocacy group People for the American Way
immediately opposed the nomination, with its president, Michael
Keegan, describing Gorsuch as an “ideological warrior who puts
his own right-wing politics above the Constitution.”

The administration official said the White House feels
Gorsuch has the qualities that Democratic senators said they
wanted to see in a justice during visits with senior Trump
officials about filling the vacancy.

“He plays it straight. He sticks to principles, and his
opinions reflect a consistency regardless of who is in his
courtroom,” the official said of Gorsuch.

Trump made his choice between two U.S. appeals court judges,
Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman of the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals, according to a source involved in the
selection process.

Gorsuch became the youngest U.S. Supreme Court nominee since
Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1991 selected
conservative Clarence Thomas, who was 43 at the time.

He is the son of Anne Burford, the first woman to head the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She served in Republican
President Ronald Reagan’s administration but resigned in 1983
amid a fight with Congress over documents on the EPA’s use of a
fund created to clean up toxic waste dumps nationwide.

Trump’s selection was one of the most consequential
appointments of his young presidency as he moved to restore a
conservative majority on the Supreme Court that had been in
place for decades until Scalia died at age 79 on Feb. 13, 2016.

Trump, who took office on Jan. 20, got the opportunity to
name Scalia’s replacement only because the Republican-led U.S.
Senate, in an action with little precedent in U.S. history,
refused to consider Obama’s nominee for the post, appeals court
judge Merrick Garland. Obama nominated Garland on March 16 but
Republican senators led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
denied Garland the customary confirmation hearings and vote.

Trump has said his promise to appoint a conservative justice
was one of the reasons he won the Nov. 8 presidential election,
with Christian conservatives and others emphasizing the
importance of the pick during the campaign. Trump
last week said evangelical Christians would love his nominee.

Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the
Senate. The minority Democrats, irate over Garland’s rebuff,
potentially could try to block the nomination with procedural
hurdles.

The new appointee would expand the court’s conservative
wing, made up of John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas
and Samuel Alito. Kennedy long has been considered the court’s
pivotal vote, sometimes siding with the liberals in key cases
such as the June 2016 ruling striking down abortion restrictions
in Texas.

The court’s restored conservative majority likely would be
supportive toward the death penalty and gun rights and hostile
toward campaign finance limits. Scalia’s replacement also could
be pivotal in cases involving abortion, religious rights,
presidential powers, transgender rights, voting rights, federal
regulations others.

Gorsuch has strong academic qualifications, with an Ivy
League education: attending Columbia University and, like
several of the other justices on the court, Harvard Law School.
He also completed a doctorate in legal philosophy at Oxford
University, spent several years in private practice and worked
in George W. Bush’s Justice Department.

Gorsuch joined an opinion in 2013 saying that owners of
private companies could object on religious grounds to a
provision of the Obamacare health insurance law requiring
employers to provide coverage for birth control for women.

As long as Kennedy and four liberals remain on the bench,
the court is not expected to pare back abortion rights as many
U.S. conservatives fervently hope. The Supreme Court legalized
abortion in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. In June, the
justices ruled 5-3 to strike down a Texas law that restricted
abortion access, with Kennedy and the liberals in the majority.

The current vacancy is the court’s longest since a 391-day
void from 1969 to 1970 during Republican Richard Nixon’s
presidency. After Abe Fortas resigned from the court in May
1969, the Senate voted down two nominees put forward by Nixon
before confirming Harry Blackmun, who became a justice in June
1970. Aside from that one, no other Supreme Court vacancy since
the U.S. Civil War years of the 1860s has been as long as the
current one.

Some Democrats have threatened to pursue a procedural hurdle
called a filibuster, meaning 60 votes would be needed in the
100-seat Senate unless its long-standing rules are changed.
Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, meaning some
Democratic votes would be needed to confirm his pick.

Trump said last week he would favor Senate Republicans
eliminating the filibuster, a change dubbed the “nuclear
option,” for Supreme Court nominees if Democrats block his pick.

Trump during his presidency may get to make additional
appointments to the Supreme Court. Liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
who Trump called upon to resign last July after she called him “a faker,” is 83 while Kennedy is 80. Stephen Breyer, another
liberal, is 78.

If any of those three is replaced by a Trump appointee,
conservatives would be eager to bring cases challenging the Roe
v. Wade ruling in the hope it would be overturned, long a goal
for many Christian conservatives.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Chung, Richard Cowan, Susan
Heavey, Ayesha Rascoe and Doina Chiacu)



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