VIDEO: President Trump nominates Gorsuch to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (AP) — Neil Gorsuch, named Tuesday as President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, is known for his clear, colloquial writing, advocacy for court review of government regulations, defense of religious freedom and skepticism toward law enforcement.

Gorsuch is a Colorado native who earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in three years, then earned a law degree from Harvard. He clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron White, a fellow Coloradan, and Anthony Kennedy before earning a philosophy degree at Oxford University and working for a prominent Washington, D.C., law firm.

He served for two years in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department before Bush appointed him to a seat on the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006.

“Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline and has earned bipartisan support,” Trump declared, announcing the nomination in his first televised prime-time address from the White House.

He is the son of Anne Gorsuch, who served as EPA administrator during the Reagan administration.

Gorsuch’s nomination was cheered by conservatives wary of Trump’s own fluid ideology. If confirmed by the Senate, he will fill the seat left vacant by the death last year of Antonin Scalia, long the right’s most powerful voice on the high court.

With Scalia’s wife, Maureen, sitting in the audience, Trump took care to praise the late justice. Gorsuch followed, calling Scalia a “lion of the law.”

Gorsuch 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 sided with two groups that successfully challenged the Obama administration’s requirements that employers provide health insurance that includes contraception.

David Lane, a prominent Denver plaintiff’s attorney who frequently clashes with law enforcement, praised Gorsuch as fair and open-minded. Lane won a $1.8 million jury verdict against the Denver Police Department in a brutality and wrongful arrest case. The city appealed and the case ended up before Gorsuch. Lane said the judge tore into the city’s lawyers and urged them to go to mediation rather than drag out appeals for years to deny the plaintiffs their reward. The mediation led the case to be settled for $1.6 million.

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“He is a very, very smart man. His leanings are very conservative, but he’s qualified to be on the Supreme Court,” Lane said. “I don’t know that Judge Gorsuch has a political agenda and he is sincere and honest and believes what he writes.”

Rebecca Love Kourlis, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice, said Gorsuch has written 175 majority opinions and 65 concurrences or dissents in his decade on the 10th Circuit.

“He’s really earned his stripes,” she said.

Kourlis said Gorsuch is also a notable advocate for simplifying the justice system to make it more accessible. “Legal services in this country are so expensive that the United States ranks near the bottom of developed nations when it comes to access to counsel in civil cases,” Gorsuch wrote in an article in a journal for judges last year. “The real question is what to do about it.”

The article is written in Gorsuch’s characteristic, straightforward style.

“He thinks it’s really important for people other than lawyers to understand what he’s writing,” Kourlis said.

Gorsuch is also an avid skier, fly fisherman and horseback rider, Kourlis said. He teaches at the University of Colorado’s law school in Boulder.

“He is humble, he is extremely articulate and he is extraordinarily hardworking,” Kourlis said.

In his financial disclosure report for 2015, he reported assets ranging from $3.1 million to $7.25 million. He earned $26,000 for his law school duties and another $5,300 in book royalties that year.

At 49, Gorsuch is the youngest Supreme Court nominee in a quarter-century.

Gorsuch thanked Trump for entrusting him with “a most solemn assignment.” Outlining his legal philosophy, he said: “It is the rule of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people’s representatives. A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge.”

Some Democrats, still smarting over Trump’s unexpected victory in the presidential election, have vowed to mount a vigorous challenge to nearly any nominee to what they view as the court’s “stolen seat.” President Barack Obama nominated U.S. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland for the vacancy after Scalia’s death, but Senate Republicans refused to consider the pick, saying the seat should be filled only after the November election.

Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer said he has “serious doubts” that Gorsuch is within what Democrats consider the legal mainstream, saying he “hewed to an ideological approach to jurisprudence that makes me skeptical that he can be a strong, independent justice on the court.”

Trump’s choice of Gorsuch marks perhaps the most significant decision of his young presidency, one with ramifications that could last long after he leaves office. After a reality television buildup to Tuesday’s announcement — including a senior Trump adviser saying more than one court candidate was heading to Washington ahead of the event— the actual reveal was traditional and drama-free.

For some Republicans, the prospect of filling one or more Supreme Court seats over the next four years has helped ease their concerns about Trump’s experience and temperament. Three justices are in their late 70s and early 80s, and a retirement would offer Trump the opportunity to cement conservative dominance of the court for many years.

Gorsuch would restore the court to the conservative tilt it held with Scalia on the bench. But he 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.

If confirmed, Gorsuch would join the court that is often the final arbiter for presidential policy. Justices upheld Obama’s signature health care law in 2012 and could eventually hear arguments over Trump’s controversial refugee and immigration executive order.

Gorsuch’s writings outside the court offer insight into his conservative leanings. He lashed out at liberals in a 2005 opinion piece for National Review, written before he became a federal judge.

“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 for effecting their social agenda on everything from gay marriage to assisted suicide to the use of vouchers for private-school education,” he wrote.

Gorsuch has won praise from conservatives for his defense of religious freedom, including in a case involving the Hobby Lobby craft stores. He voted in favor of privately held for-profit secular corporations, and individuals who owned or controlled them, who raised religious objections to paying for contraception for women covered under their health plans.

The judge also has written opinions that question 30 years of Supreme Court rulings that allow federal agencies to interpret laws and regulations. Gorsuch has said that federal bureaucrats have been allowed to accumulate too much power at the expense of Congress and the courts.

Like Scalia, Gorsuch identifies himself as a judge who tries to decide cases by interpreting the Constitution and laws as they were understood when written. He also has raised questions about criminal laws in a way that resembles Scalia’s approach to criminal law.

University of Michigan law professor Richard Primus said Gorsuch “may be the closest thing the new generation of conservative judges has to Antonin Scalia.”

Gorsuch, like the other eight justices on the court, has an Ivy League law degree. The Colorado native earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in three years, then a law degree from Harvard. He clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron White, a fellow Coloradan, and Anthony Kennedy before earning a philosophy degree at Oxford University and working for a prominent Washington law firm.

He served for two years in George W. Bush’s Department of Justice before Bush nominated him to the appeals court. His mother was Anne Gorsuch Burford, who was head of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Reagan administration.

Gorsuch was among the 21 possible choices for the court Trump released during the campaign. Other finalists also came from that list, including Thomas Hardiman, who serves alongside Trump’s sister on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and William Pryor, a federal appeals court judge and Alabama’s attorney general from 1997 to 2004.

If Democrats decide to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination, his fate 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.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee issued the following statement on the nomination:

“I am deeply concerned by President Trump’s decision to name Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to be the next Supreme Court Justice. The president has indicated that his nominee would automatically overturn Roe v. Wade and be approved by radical right-wing organizations. These pre-qualifications present an immediate threat to our constitutional rights and freedoms.

“The Supreme Court is the last line of defense for the protection of our civil and human rights. In order to qualify for a lifetime appointment to our nation’s highest court, a nominee must respect the constitutional rights of all Americans and prove that he or she will judge cases fairly, with an open mind, and without a political agenda.

“The selection of our next Supreme Court Justice is not a decision we should take lightly, it will dramatically impact this generation and generations to come. The confirmation process must involve an in-depth review of Judge Gorsuch record.

“We must evaluate whether he will protect reproductive freedoms, civil and human rights for everyone, the separation of church and state and our environment among other issues of importance. As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus I believe Judge Gorsuch’s record on issues that impact the African American community, including affirmative action, civil rights, voting rights, and criminal justice reform must be thoroughly examined.

“Given Judge Gorsuch’s record on the federal bench I am concerned that he will not meet the high standards necessary to be a Justice that protects all Americans.”

Sen. Diane Feinstein has issued this statement:

“Evaluating Supreme Court nominees is among our most important responsibilities as senators and over the last few days we’ve seen the importance of an independent judiciary. I’ve repeatedly stated that the next justice must have respect for precedent, be within the mainstream and protect the fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. Judge Gorsuch has a long record and it will take time to conduct a thorough review.

“I firmly believe the Supreme Court must be a fair arbiter of the law—not simply another political body that makes decisions based on ideology or partisanship. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have played politics with this seat by refusing to hold courtesy meetings, hearings or even debate on Chief Judge Garland, who had an impeccable 20-year record of service.

“I am deeply concerned that throughout his campaign the president promised to use litmus tests when choosing his nominee. Last October, when asked about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, then-candidate Trump said ‘That will happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.’

“Then tonight, President Trump declared, ‘I am a man of my word.’ That’s exactly what I’m afraid of. Judge Gorsuch voted twice to deny contraceptive coverage to women, elevating a corporation’s religious beliefs over women’s health care.

“At a time when public trust in our institutions is at an all-time low and our country is bitterly divided, a thorough and fair review is vitally important.”

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