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Trump names conservative judge Gorsuch as US Supreme Court pick

Wednesday, February 1, 2017 - 09:31

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Mr Gorsuch is the youngest nominee to the nation's highest court in more than a quarter century, and he could influence the direction of the court for decades.

[WASHINGTON] President Donald Trump on Tuesday nominated Neil Gorsuch for a lifetime job on the US Supreme Court, picking the 49-year-old federal appeals court judge to restore the court's conservative majority and help shape rulings on divisive issues such as abortion, gun control, the death penalty and religious rights.

The Colorado native faces a potentially contentious confirmation battle in the US Senate after Republicans last year refused to consider Democratic President Barack Obama's nominee to fill the vacancy caused by the February 2016 death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia.

Mr Gorsuch is the youngest nominee to the nation's highest court in more than a quarter century, and he could influence the direction of the court for decades.

Mr Gorsuch is a judge on the Denver-based 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals and was appointed to that post by Republican President George W Bush in 2006.

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Some Democrats in the US Senate, which votes on whether to confirm judicial nominees, have already said they would seek to block whoever Mr Trump nominates.

Mr Gorsuch is considered a conservative intellectual, known for backing religious rights, and is seen as very much in the mold of Mr Scalia, a leading conservative voice on the court for decades.

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the choice of Mr Gorsuch was seen by the White House as a significant departure from Supreme Court nominations from the recent past, given that many justices have come from the eastern United States. Mr Gorsuch lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he raises horses and is a life-long outdoorsman.

The official described Mr Gorsuch as a mainstream judge who should easily be confirmed by the Senate. The official noted that the Senate confirmed him for his current judgeship in 2006 by voice vote with no one voting against him.

The official said the White House feels Mr Gorsuch has the qualities that Democratic senators said they wanted to see in a justice during visits with senior Trump officials about filling the vacancy. "He plays it straight. He sticks to principles, and his opinions reflect a consistency regardless of who is in his courtroom," the official said of Mr Gorsuch.

Mr Trump made his choice between two US appeals court judges, Mr Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman of the Philadelphia-based 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals, according to a source involved in the selection process.

Mr Gorsuch became the youngest US Supreme Court nominee since Republican President George HW Bush in 1991 selected conservative Clarence Thomas, who was 43 at the time.

He is the son of Anne Burford, the first woman to head the US Environmental Protection Agency. She served in Republican President Ronald Reagan's administration but resigned in 1983 amid a fight with Congress over documents on the EPA's use of a fund created to clean up toxic waste dumps nationwide.

Mr Trump's selection was one of the most consequential appointments of his young presidency as he moved to restore a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that had been in place for decades until Mr Scalia died at age 79 on Feb 13, 2016.

Mr Trump, who took office on Jan 20, got the opportunity to name Mr Scalia's replacement only because the Republican-led US Senate, in an action with little precedent in US history, refused to consider Mr Obama's nominee for the post, appeals court judge Merrick Garland. Mr Obama nominated Mr Garland on March 16 but Republican senators led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denied Mr Garland the customary confirmation hearings and vote.

Mr Trump has said his promise to appoint a conservative justice was one of the reasons he won the Nov 8 presidential election, with Christian conservatives and others emphasizing the importance of the pick during the campaign. Mr Trump last week said evangelical Christians would love his nominee.

Mr Trump's fellow Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate. The minority Democrats, irate over Mr Garland's rebuff, potentially could try to block the nomination with procedural hurdles.

The new appointee would expand the court's conservative wing, made up of John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Mr Kennedy long has been considered the court's pivotal vote, sometimes siding with the liberals in key cases such as the June 2016 ruling striking down abortion restrictions in Texas.

The court's restored conservative majority likely would be supportive toward the death penalty and gun rights and hostile toward campaign finance limits. Mr Scalia's replacement also could be pivotal in cases involving abortion, religious rights, presidential powers, transgender rights, voting rights, federal regulations others.

Mr Gorsuch has strong academic qualifications, with an Ivy League education: attending Columbia University and, like several of the other justices on the court, Harvard Law School. He also completed a doctorate in legal philosophy at Oxford University, spent several years in private practice and worked in George W Bush's Justice Department.

REUTERS

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