<span class="articleLocation”>Federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, the
U.S. Supreme Court pick of President Donald Trump, is a
conservative intellectual known for backing religious rights and
seen as very much in the mold of Antonin Scalia, the justice he
was chosen to replace.
Gorsuch, who has not shied away from needling liberals on
occasion, is 49 and could influence the high court for decades
to come in the lifetime post, if confirmed by the Republican-led
Senate. He is the youngest Supreme Court nominee since
Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1991 picked Clarence
Thomas, who was 43 at the time.
He currently serves as a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals in Denver, the city where he was born. He was
appointed to that post in 2006 by Republican President George W.
Gorsuch, who is white, adds little diversity to the court
compared with the justices appointed by Democratic President
Barack Obama, both of whom were women, one becoming the first
But he offers geographical diversity to a court dominated by
justices from the east and west coasts. As an Episcopalian, he
would be the only Protestant on the court, which has three
Jewish justices and five Catholics.
Gorsuch is seen by analysts as a jurist similar to Scalia,
who died on Feb. 13, 2016. Scalia, praised by Gorsuch as “a lion
of the law,” was known not only for his hard-line conservatism
but for interpreting the U.S. Constitution based on what he
considered its original meaning, and laws as written by
legislators. Like Scalia, Gorsuch is known for sharp writing
“It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of
the people’s representatives,” Gorsuch said on Tuesday at the
White House event announcing the nomination in remarks that
echoed Scalia’s views.
Trump, a Republican, had the chance to nominate Gorsuch
because the Republican-led U.S. Senate last year refused to
consider Obama’s nominee, appeals court judge Merrick Garland.
Democrats, angered by the treatment of Garland, and opposing
Gorsuch’s conservative views, may seek to block his nomination.
Trump may have favored Gorsuch for the job in hopes of a
smoother confirmation process than for other potential
candidates such as appeals court judge William Pryor, who has
called the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion “the
worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.”
The federal government is familiar territory for Gorsuch,
who is the son of Anne Burford, the first woman to head the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency. She served as Republican
President Ronald Reagan’s top environmental official but
resigned in 1983, just 22 months into the job, amid a fight with
Congress over documents on the EPA’s use of a fund created to
clean up toxic waste dumps nationwide.
She was criticized by environmentalists for cutting the
agency’s enforcement efforts against polluters and slowing
payments for cleaning up toxic waste.
The high court is also familiar ground for Gorsuch, who
served as a clerk for two justices including a current member of
the court, Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who often casts a
deciding vote in close decisions. If confirmed, he would become
the first clerk to join a former boss on the Supreme Court.
Gorsuch also served as a clerk for Justice Byron White, a John
F. Kennedy appointee, who retired from the court in 1993.
Gorsuch has strong, Ivy League academic qualifications:
attending Columbia University and, like several of the other
justices on the court, Harvard Law School, graduating the same
year as Obama. He completed a doctorate in legal philosophy at
Oxford University, spent several years in private practice and
worked in George W. Bush’s Justice Department.
CRITIC OF LIBERALS
In a 2005 article in the conservative National Review
magazine, Gorsuch criticized American liberals’ “overweening
addiction to the courtroom” to implement a social agenda “on
everything from gay marriage to assisted suicide.” In his Senate
confirmation hearing for his appellate court judgeship, he said
the point of the article could be applied to groups across the
In 2013, Gorsuch played a role in a high-profile ruling
involving arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby, allowing owners
of private companies to object on religious grounds to
an Obamacare provision requiring employers to provide health
insurance covering birth control for women.
The decision, later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, said
the provision violated a federal law called the Religious
Freedom Restoration Act. In a concurrence, Gorsuch expressed
sympathy for the choice faced by the evangelical Christian
owners of the company “between exercising their faith or saving
Gorsuch also criticized an important legal doctrine that
directs courts to defer to federal agencies’ interpretation of
statutes. Last August, in a case over immigration rules, Gorsuch
called the doctrine the “elephant in the room” that concentrates
federal power “in a way that seems more than a little difficult
to square with the Constitution.”
He has written extensively on the topic of assisted suicide
and euthanasia, arguing against legalization. In written
questions related to his Senate confirmation hearings, he was
asked whether his writings would make him biased in any case on
the matter before him. He said his personal views would play no
role in his decisions as a judge.
Gorsuch is married with two teenage daughters, and lives
outside of Boulder, Colorado.
Friends and former clerks said he was a lover of the
outdoors, describing him as an excellent skier, a fly fisherman
and a runner.
“We used to joke that he should be the face of Colorado
tourism,” former Gorsuch clerk Jane Nitze said. (Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington)
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