President Trump on Tuesday night announced federal Judge Neil Gorsuch as his choice for the Supreme Court, in his highest-profile nomination to date – and one sure to touch off a fierce Senate debate in the weeks ahead.
Touting his nominee’s credentials and legal mind, the president said he was living up to his own vow during the campaign to nominate someone who respects the law and “loves” the Constitution.
“Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline and has earned bipartisan support,” Trump said, noting he was confirmed unanimously to his current judicial post.
Gorsuch, 49, has served on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver for more than a decade.
Trump’s choice, if confirmed to the high court, would take the seat that has remained vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia died nearly a year ago. The nominee was among Trump’s original list of 21 potential choices circulated during the presidential campaign.
But Democrats are still smarting over Republicans’ refusal to consider then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, and some have vowed to retaliate by opposing Trump’s pick. Late Tuesday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer raised the threat of a filibuster, saying the Senate “must insist” the nominee garner 60 votes.
In that case, Trump would need to find at least eight Democrats to join Republicans in supporting his pick.
“The burden is on Judge Neil Gorsuch to prove himself to be within the legal mainstream and, in this new era, willing to vigorously defend the Constitution from abuses of the Executive branch and protect the constitutionally enshrined rights of all Americans,” Schumer said in a statement. “Given his record, I have very serious doubts about Judge Gorsuch’s ability to meet this standard.”
Trump, though, said his nominee’s qualifications “are beyond dispute.”
He added, “I only hope that both Democrats and Republicans can come together for once, for the good of the country.”
Trump spoke for less than eight minutes before turning the podium over to Gorsuch, during the brief rollout in the East Room of the White House.
“You’ve entrusted me with a most solemn assignment,” Gorsuch said, vowing if confirmed to be a “faithful servant” of the Constitution and the law.
He also honored Scalia as a “lion of the law,” saying all his colleagues cherished the late justice’s “wisdom” and “humor.” He added, “Like them, I miss him.”
Gorsuch, showing flashes of humor himself, is in many ways similar to the man whose seat he hopes to fill.
Like Scalia, he is an originalist who believes judges should follow the text and original meaning of the Constitution. He has a record of standing up for religious liberty and Trump’s choice met quickly with approval from conservatives hoping for a Scalia-like pick.
Schumer and his Democratic colleagues have been increasingly at odds with the Trump administration in the wake of Friday’s executive order on refugee and immigration policies.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called earlier Tuesday for the nominee to be treated fairly.
“What I would expect from our Democratic friends is the nominee be handled similarly to President Clinton’s two nominees in his first term and President Obama’s two nominees in his first term,” McConnell said.
But Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley has signaled he’s ready to fight, telling supporters the seat was stolen from Obama since his pick never got a vote, and saying he won’t be “complicit in this theft.”
Trump originally was planning to name his Supreme Court choice on Thursday, but moved up the announcement amid a bipartisan backlash over Friday’s immigration order.
He now turns Washington’s focus to the debate over his high court pick, one sure to draw advocacy groups on both sides into the fray. Conservative groups will fight hard for Gorsuch’s confirmation, against expected Democratic and liberal opposition.
If Democrats do follow through on a filibuster, it could spur conservative senators to try overhauling Senate rules to lower the threshold from 60 votes to 51 – the so-called “nuclear option.”
The vacancy on the Supreme Court was a major factor for many voters in the 2016 presidential election. According to the Fox News exit poll, more than one-in-five voters said nominations for the high court were the most important factor in casting their vote – and those voters went for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton 56-41 percent.