President Donald Trump picked a U.S. Supreme Court nominee whose roots run deep in Colorado politics and Reagan conservatism.
Neil Gorsuch, who has served on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver since 2006, said Trump had entrusted him with a solemn assignment.
“Standing here in a house of history and acutely aware of my own imperfections, I pledge that if I’m confirmed I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great country,” he said in the televised announcement from the White House.
Trump said Gorsuch fit the mold of the kind of justice he vowed to appoint while on the campaign trail, and he cited Gorsuch’s Western heritage.
“Judge Gorsuch was born and raised in Colorado and was taught the value of independence, hard work and public service,” Trump said.
Gorsuch is a constitutional originalist and is seen as pro-life, one of Trump’s stated prerequisites during the campaign. Gorsuch sided with Christians in the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor case involving Obamacare requirements that challenged religious beliefs.
“Judge Gorsuch has a record of ruling in a way that does not reflect Colorado values on reproductive rights,” NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado executive director Karen Middleton said in a statement. “This is a pro-choice state that supports the constitutional right to abortion enshrined in Roe and the right to privacy enshrined in Griswold – beliefs that are contradicted in Judge Gorsuch’s ruling in Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters.”
Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican from Canon City, was pleased with the nomination.
“Coloradans of all parties and persuasions can be proud tonight to see Colorado-born U.S. Circuit Court Judge Neil Gorsuch nominated by the president of the United States to fill the current vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Grantham said in a satement.
An avid skier, Gorsuch grew up in Denver before moving to Washington, D.C., as a teenager, when his mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, a former state legislator, was appointed by Ronald Reagan to be the first female secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She was forced to resign in 1983 and was cited for Contempt of Congress for refusing to release documents on Superfund waste disposal.
His mother was a Denver lawyer who in 1983 married Robert Burford, a former Colorado House speaker, as well as a rancher and mining engineer from Grand Junction. Burford was Reagan’s head of the Bureau of Land Management, who was disliked by Democrats and environmentalists for allowing overgrazing on federal lands and other policies.
His mother was a staunch defender of states’ rights, and Neil Gorsuch has distinguished himself as a constitutional originalist, like Scalia, who believes in a strict, literal interpretation set forth by the founding fathers.
As a young lawyer, Neil Gorsuch was a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White of Colorado in 1993, White’s last year on the high court. White died in 2002.
At 49, Gorsuch is the youngest sitting Supreme Court justice.
Gorsuch teaches courses in legal ethics and antitrust law at the University of Colorado.
Melissa Hart, a law professor at CU’s Byron White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law, told the SCOTUS Blog Gorsuch is “instrumental” to the center — “connecting it with speakers, moderating panels and even giving up his weekends to judge high school students in moot court competitions.”
“He also actively makes himself a part of the broader Colorado legal community, attending events sponsored by the Colorado Bar Association and the Federalist Society, for which just this past week he gave a lecture on “Getting Legal Ethics Right.”
Gorsuch received a doctorate degree from Oxford University, where he studied the legal and moral issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia. He holds that allowing a person to intentionally end their life is wrong.
“(A)ny state’s decision to legalize assisted suicide would likely bring with it both benefits and some attendant costs, and, accordingly, the legalization question presents a difficult moral and legal choice.” he wrote in the Wisconsin Law Review,
Colorado voted to allow physician-assisted suicide 65 percent to 35 percent in November.
His nomination, however, faces an uphill battle, not on his merits as a jurist but due to recent history. Senate Democrats have vowed a fight over the nomination they felt should have been President Obama’s to make.
The seat has been open since Justice Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 13 last year. Senate Republicans refused give a hearing to Obama’s nominee, U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland, preserving the pick for Trump.
“Before they’ve even heard who this individual is, you’ve got some of them saying, absolutely no,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said, according to Politico. “The default used to be, unless unqualified, confirmed. And it is now going to, always no. And I think that’s a pretty sad message.”
In 2006 Senate Democrats, including then-Sen. Obama, tried and failed to block the confirmation of Samuel Alito.
After President George W. Bush nominated Gorsuch to the 10th Circuit , his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee dealt mostly with his positions on assisted suicide and euthanasia. Gorsuch said his writing addressed current laws and precedent, which he would follow as a judge, rather than his personal convictions.