U.S. President Donald Trump has chosen Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, one of the most consequential moves of his young administration.
The president, who made the announcement with as much fanfare as possible, had attempted to keep the selection as quiet as possible.
Shortly after making the announcement, a happy Trump quickly asked, “was that a surprise? Was it?”
Trump went onto describe the conservative judge as an individual who closely defines “what we are looking for.”
Gorsuch, 49, serves on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. A conservative with a writer’s flair and polished legal pedigree, Gorsuch would be the youngest Supreme Court nominee in a quarter-century.
“Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous disciple, and has earned bipartisan support,” Trump said.
“Depending on their age, a justice can be active for 50 years. And his or her decisions can last a century or more, and can often be permanent,” Trump added.
Ex-late night TV host Arsenio Hall compared the announcement to an episode of “Celebrity Apprentice,” which he starred on with former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken in 2012.
DNC National Press Secretary Adriebbe Watson questioned whether Gorsuch would be able to keep “an open mind to make decisions based on their merits,” in a statement.
“We cannot afford a Supreme Court Justice who doesn’t have the utmost respect for constitutional values of liberty, equality and justice for all,” she said.
Republican leaders were quick to announce their excitement over Trump’s selection.
“In Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump has fulfilled his pledge to nominate a judge who has a demonstrated loyalty to the Constitution and a strong commitment to life,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seconded Ryan’s opinion.
“He has an impressive background and a long record of faithfully applying the law and the Constitution,” McConnell said in a statement. “Judge Gorsuch understands the invaluable contribution to the federal judiciary and our democratic government made by the justice he is succeeding.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) was also happy with the pick.
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Trump had a list of 21 possible choices that he made public during the campaign, and each has met with him to discuss the vacancy that arose when Antonin Scalia died nearly a year ago.
Trump’s pick will restore a general conservative tilt to the court but is not expected to call into question high-profile rulings on abortion, gay marriage and other issues in which the court has been divided 5-4 in recent years.
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Gorsuch served for in ex-president George W. Bush’s Department of Justice for two years before he was appointed to an appeals court seat. There he became known for clear, colloquial writing, advocacy for court review of government regulations, defence of religious freedom and skepticism toward law enforcement.
He has contended that courts give too much deference to government agencies’ interpretations of statutes, a deference that stems from a Supreme Court ruling in a 1984 case. He also sided with two groups that successfully challenged the Obama administration’s requirements that employers provide health insurance that includes contraception.
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The ninth seat on the Supreme Court has sat empty since Scalia died in February 2016. President Barack Obama nominated U.S. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland for the vacancy, but Senate Republicans refused to consider the pick, saying the seat should be filled only after the November election.
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That GOP effort outraged the White House and congressional Democrats, who have suggested they might seek to block any choice Trump makes. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has said Democrats will oppose any nominee outside the mainstream.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that while Democrats may not like the “political or philosophical background” of the president’s pick, “the criteria in terms of academia background, time on the bench, the expertise and criteria meets the intent of both Republicans and Democrats.”
If Democrats decide to filibuster, the fate of Trump’s nominee could rest in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump has encouraged McConnell to change the rules of the Senate and make it impossible to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee – a change known in the Senate as the “nuclear option.”
A conservative group already has announced plans to begin airing $2 million worth of ads in support of the nominee in Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota, four states that Trump won and in which Democrats will be defending their Senate seats in 2018.
- With files from wire services