President Trump announced Tuesday that he has tapped Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by Justice Antonin Scalia – a nominee who is in many ways similar to the man whose seat he hopes to fill.
Gorsuch, like Scalia, is a textualist and 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 swiftly met with approval Tuesday night from conservatives hoping for a Scalia-like pick.
In his remarks alongside the president at the White House, Gorsuch also gave a nod to Scalia, calling him a “lion of the law.”
And he vowed if confirmed to be a “faithful servant” of the Constitution and the law. “It is the role of judges to apply,” not alter, the laws written by Congress, he said.
“You’ve entrusted me with a most solemn assignment,” Gorsuch said.
An academic study from November comparing top court prospects to Scalia — based on judicial philosophy and other factors — put Gorsuch second among Trump’s “List of 21” for his “Scalia-ness.” His views on criminal law (including the death penalty), interstate commerce, and religious liberty match much of Scalia’s jurisprudence.
Gorsuch, 49, is a strict opponent of judicial activism, writing in a 2016 law review article that “judges should be in the business of declaring what the law is using the traditional tools of interpretation, rather than pronouncing the law as they might wish it to be in light of their own political views.”
Gorsuch is currently on the 10th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals based in Denver, having previously clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He also was a high-ranking official in the George W. Bush Justice Department before his judicial appointment under the Republican president.
On the court of appeals, Gorsuch ruled against the Obama administration in two major cases concerning religious liberty, Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell – both of which concerned Christian groups objecting to the ObamaCare contraceptive mandate. His positions were affirmed by the Supreme Court.
There still are a number of question marks over his conservative record. He has, for instance, never written an opinion on the constitutional right to an abortion. However, some legal scholar say his 2009 book questioning laws allowing assisted suicide make parallels to the questions surrounding abortion and whether intentionally ending human life is wrong.
He is known for his conversational writing style, and also for using popular cultural references in explaining his views. One notable 2012 ruling on workplace injury liability included this gem: “Haunted houses may be full of ghosts, goblins, and guillotines, but it’s their more prosaic features that pose the real danger. Tyler Hodges found that out when an evening shift working the ticket booth ended with him plummeting down an elevator shaft. “
Gorsuch is married to Marie Louise Gorsuch, and they have two teenage daughters. His mother in Anne Burford was the first female administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency.