President Donald Trump announced Tuesday night he would nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump made the announcement in a primetime television broadcast from the White House amid a tumultuous few days in which he fired acting attorney general Sally Yates for refusing to defend a controversial executive order cutting off immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries. The furor could complicate Gorsuch’s confirmation by stiffening the resolve of Senate Democrats to block Trump’s nominee.
Gorsuch and his wife stood next to Trump for the announcement. Trump said Gorsuch has “outstanding legal skils” and “a brilliant mind.”
In choosing Gorsuch, 49, Trump opted for a candidate with traditional credentials shared by most modern-day Supreme Court justices. A Colorado native with degrees from Columbia University, Harvard Law School and the University of Oxford, Gorsuch clerked for Judge David Sentelle of the D.C. Circuit and then for Justice Byron White and Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court in 1993 and 1994.
If confirmed, Gorsuch will be the fourth former Supreme Court law clerk on the current court, and the first to work alongside the justice for whom he clerked.
Gorsuch also worked at a Washington firm familiar to the Supreme Court: Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel. He started at the firm in 1995, becoming partner in 1998. In 2005 he joined the George W. Bush Justice Department, where he helped manage the department’s civil litigation. A year later, Bush nominated him to the Tenth Circuit. He was confirmed on a voice vote.
In some respects, Gorsuch if confirmed would follow in the footsteps of Scalia, his predecessor. Like Scalia, Gorsuch is a proponent of adhering to the words of the Constitution and statutes in interpreting their meaning. Judges, Gorsuch said in a lecture last year about Scalia’s legacy, should strive “to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be.”
Gorsuch is also a vivid and scholarly writer. While in private practice, Gorsuch co-authored a column in Legal Times criticizing “the free ride to fast riches enjoyed by securities class action attorneys.”
Gorsuch added, “The problem is that securities fraud litigation imposes an enormous toll on the economy, affecting virtually every public corporation in America at one time or another and costing businesses billions of dollars in settlements every year.” The occasion for the column was an amicus curiae brief Gorsuch wrote in a class action case for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Gorsuch wrote an essay in 2005 for National Review in which he said:
“American liberals have become addicted to the courtroom, relying on judges and lawyers rather than elected leaders and the ballot box, as the primary means of effecting their social agenda on everything from gay marriage to assisted suicide to the use of vouchers for private-school education.”
He continued: “This overweening addiction to the courtroom as the place to debate social policy is bad for the country and bad for the judiciary.”
In August 2016, Gorsuch laid out his views on judicial deference to executive branch agencies in a concurrence to his own opinion in an immigration case, Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Loretta Lynch. The Chevron deference doctrine, he wrote, permits “executive bureaucracies to swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power and concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design. Maybe the time has come to face the behemoth.”
In his 2015 financial disclosure form, Gorsuch reported holdings valued at more than $7 million. The University of Colorado Law School paid him $26,000 last year for teaching courses on legal ethics.
Gorsuch is the son of Anne Gorsuch Burford, who headed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency early in the Reagan administration. She was a controversial figure who set out to shrink the agency. After refusing to turn over certain documents to a House of Representatives committee, she was found in contempt of Congress and resigned in 1983.
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