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Neil Gorsuch nominated by Donald Trump to fill supreme court vacancy

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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.

Trumps
Trumps nomination of Neil Gorsuch would fill a seat left vacant since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Gorsuchs track record as a judge on the US court of appeals for the 10th circuit does not shed obvious light on how he might rule as a supreme court justice on hot-button topics such as abortion and LGBT rights. He is the author of a book about euthanasia in which he writes, to act intentionally against life is to suggest that its value rests only on its transient instrumental usefulness for other ends.

Ideological strands running through Gorsuchs appeals court rulings would seem likely to endear him to congressional Republicans and Trumps conservative base. He has shown himself to be solicitous to claims of religious exemptions from the law, to gun rights claims and to the prosecution of death penalty cases.

Gorsuch did get praise from some Democrats. Neal Katyal, a former solicitor general in the Obama administration wrote in an editorial for the New York Times entitled Why Liberals should back Neil Gorsuch that Trumps nominee was an extraordinary judge and man.

During Trumps announcement, Gorsuch addressed the crowd briefly, declaring himself honored and humbled and promising to be a faithful servant to the constitution and laws of this great country and paying tribute to the principles of partiality, independence, collegiality and courage.

A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge, Gorsuch said, stretching for rulings he desires instead of reading the law on the page.

Before he left the lectern, Trump sought confirmation that his primetime announcement had gone over as planned.

So was that a surprise? he said. Was it?

Gorsuch is a former clerk for Justice Kennedy, and some conservative analysts theorize that he could assert a rightward influence on the centrist Ronald Reagan nominee.

Chuck Schumer had said he would filibuster Trumps pick if he was outside the mainstream. On Tuesday night, he said he had serious doubts that Gorsuch would prove himself to be within the legal mainstream. Others used similar language, with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi saying on CNN that Gorsuch is a very hostile appointment and outside the mainstream.

Under current Senate rules, which require 60 votes for a supreme court confirmation, Gorsuch would need to win the support of multiple Democrats, who count 48 Senate caucus members to the Republicans 52.

If the Democrats follow through with a filibuster, however, those rules could change. The previous Democratic leadership of the Senate changed the rules to require fewer votes for the confirmation of most executive nominees, and the current Republican leadership could make an additional change to the rules. McConnell earlier had vowed to confirm Trumps nominee.

Protestors
Protestors gather outside of the supreme court after Trumps announcement. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

White House press secretary Sean Spicer downplayed the looming threat of an all-consuming political brawl over Trumps nominee, telling reporters on Tuesday that he believed the Senate would reach the 60-vote threshold required to confirm supreme court appointees.

Republicans dismissed any lingering hard feelings from the Senates refusal to hold hearings on Garland. I think thats a bogus argument said Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. I thought it was a bit unfair when you look through the history of the country when a vacancy occurs in the last year of a sitting president and the primary process is almost over … if thats the reason they use, its a bogus reason.

Interest groups across the political spectrum will spend millions on a public campaign to legitimize or tear down a supreme court nominee. Already, conservative groups are running ads to pressure Senate Democrats in red states into siding with Republicans over the nominee.

A fly-fishing enthusiast and skier who lives outside Boulder, Colorado, Gorsuch lived in Washington DC as a boy, after his mother Anne Gorsuch Burford was appointed by Reagan to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. After graduating from Columbia University, Gorsuch, who is said to have an inexhaustible store of Winston Churchill quotes, went on to Harvard Law school and attended Oxford University on a Marshall scholarship. He worked as a corporate lawyer in Washington for a decade before his appointment to the circuit court by George W Bush in 2006, a post to which the Senate confirmed him by voice vote.

The supreme court is currently in recess and is scheduled to reconvene for conference on 17 February.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2017/jan/31/neil-gorsuch-supreme-court-nomination

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