49-year-old Neil Gorsuch gets the vacant Supreme Court post and could keep it for decades. Opposition leader Schumer is harshly critical.
Appointment for life: Neil Gorsuch made it Photo: ap
It is one of the most potentially momentous decisions of the new US president: Just a week and a half after taking office, Donald Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch, a proven conservative, to the post on the country’s Supreme Court that has been vacant for a year. The appointment of the 49-year-old federal appeals court judge is likely to give the powerful Supreme Court a fundamental conservative orientation in the long term.
After "defending the nation," the nomination of the chief justice is, in his view, the "most important decision" of a U.S. president, Trump said in announcing his decision Tuesday night at the White House. He described Gorsuch’s appointment as the fulfillment of a campaign promise: "I’m a man of my word," Trump said.
Indeed, the hope that the Supreme Court would be permanently conservative was one of the central motives that mobilized the Trump electorate. The court has the final say on many contentious political and social issues, such as abortion, the death penalty and gun ownership.
Supreme Court appointments are given additional weight by the fact that justices are appointed for life – Gorsuch, the youngest nominee to the court in a quarter century, may hold the post for decades.
Bush described Gorsuch, who has served as an appellate judge in the western state of Colorado for more than a decade, as a candidate of "outstanding legal ability" and "brilliant mind" who enjoys bipartisan support. The 49-year-old’s nomination did not come as a surprise. He had been one of the top favorites because of his reputation as an astute advocate of conservative legal interpretations.
Senate still has to approve
His nomination, however, must still be approved by the Senate. Since the president’s Republican Party has a majority there of 52 of the 100 seats, he has a good chance of getting the green light from the congressional chamber. However, the nomination process could well become complicated and drag on for months.
Normally, a simple majority in the Senate is sufficient for the nomination of judges. However, from the ranks of the opposition Democrats came the threat to resort to the instrument of the so-called filibuster. These are marathon speeches that can delay the proceedings for a long time. To break the filibuster and put Gorsuch’s nomination back on track, Republicans would need 60 votes, or eight allies among Democrats.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer expressed "serious doubts" that Gorsuch was within the "judicial mainstream." He said the judge has repeatedly taken a stand for corporations against workers in his rulings and expressed "hostility" toward women’s rights.
On the side of employers
In one of his most contentious decisions, Gorsuch had backed employers who refused to pay for contraceptives for their employees because of their religious beliefs – something Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama’s health care reform law provides for. Gorsuch said during his brief appearance at the White House that he looked forward to speaking with House members from both parties about their "concerns."
Opposition among Democrats to Trump’s judicial decision also stems from their outrage over what has become a nearly year-long vacancy on the Supreme Court. Since the surprise death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, his position on the nine-member bench has remained vacant. The result was a stalemate between four conservative and four left-liberal justices.
Obama had unsuccessfully nominated Judge Merrick Garland, who is considered a moderate, to the Supreme Court – the Republicans in the Senate blocked the process and thus postponed the personnel decision until after the election.