Neil Gorsuch is a conservative judge and gifted writer who leaves no doubt where he stands, making him a natural successor to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, court-watchers said Tuesday.
President Trump nominated Judge Gorsuch, currently on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill Scalia’s seat in an announcement from the White House Tuesday night.
Several rulings where the judge acted to protect religious objectors from Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate earned him praise from conservatives, who predicted he would be a trustworthy vote for them on the high court.
And he was also seen as one of the more easily confirmable judges on the list Mr. Trump said he was choosing from.
“His temperament and even his record, while extremely conservative, is not vitriolic and it’s not condescending,” said Tim Head, executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition.
The judge, who won his seat on the appellate court in a Senate voice vote in 2006, served clerkships for two justices, former Justice Byron White and current Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
If he wins confirmation, he would serve alongside Justice Kennedy, who is still on the court and often serves as the critical swing vote.
He got his law degree from Harvard University and, at age 49, is the youngest Supreme Court nominee since Justice Clarence Thomas, who was 43.
As an Episcopalian, he would be the only Protestant on a court dominated by Catholic and Jewish justices.
The Denver native is familiar with Washington, D.C., as he moved to the nation’s capital in his youth when his mother served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Reagan administration.
Judge Gorsuch heaped praise on Scalia in a recent article in the Case Western Reserve Law Review, saying the late jurist was a guiding light in urging judges not to stray into the job of legislators, writing their own preferences into the outcome of court cases.
Those sentiments are exactly what conservatives were hoping for in a Trump pick.
“He’s very committed to the same constitutional principles that animated Justice Scalia: looking at the text, looking at the structure of the Constitution and its history and undemanding how important that is to guaranteeing our freedoms,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel at the Judicial Crisis Network.
John Malcolm, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, said he would compare Judge Gorsuch to Justice Thomas, saying both men aren’t afraid to overrule precedent and both have “an originalist approach” to the Constitution.
Liberal groups, however, said the new nominee strays too far outside of mainstream legal thought.
“His background and his rulings … really show he’s Wall Street’s best friend and he’s put the agenda of huge corporations and special interests ahead of everyday Americans,” said Adam Hodge, national spokesperson for the Constitutional Responsibility Project.
Judge Gorsuch drew attention during the repeated legal fights over the Affordable Care Act with rulings in two cases involving the contraceptive mandate requiring employers to provide birth control coverage for their employees.
He wrote a concurring opinion in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and joined in a dissent in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, saying judges shouldn’t substitute their own judgment for the faithful’s on what religious beliefs require.
And in Yellowbear v. Lampert, Judge Gorsuch wrote the court’s opinion that held prison officials violated the religious liberty of a prisoner when they denied access to a sweat lodge the prisoner used to practice his American Indian religion.
Judge Gorsuch also took a dim view of the expanding administrative state — a growing concern among conservative legal scholars — in a case last year. The judge warned that an expanding executive branch threatened to overrun the legislature and the courts, which are supposed to be checks on the president’s powers.
“In enlightenment theory and hard-won experience under a tyrannical king, the founders found proof of the wisdom of a government of separated powers,” the judge wrote.
Mr. Malcolm called it a “brilliant concurrence” that challenged the Supreme Court’s ruling in a case known as Chevron, which has granted executive agencies broad latitude to impose new rules and regulations.
ProgressNow Colorado Executive Director Ian Silverii called the Gorsuch nomination “just the latest in a series of horrible choices by Donald Trump” and indicated that progressive groups would return to “war on women” claims.
“Gorsuch’s fringe views on health care and contraception make him an enemy of Colorado women. On the Supreme Court, Gorsuch would be a vote to roll back women’s rights, environmental protections, and hard-won protections against discrimination in the workplace,” the Colorado group said in a statement sent within minutes of Mr. Trump’s announcement.