President Donald Trump on Tuesday nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, setting up a political battle over the conservative judge who would help to shape the ideological makeup of the top U.S. court for years to come.
Gorsuch serves as an appeals judge for the 10th Circuit in Colorado. At 49, he is among the youngest Supreme Court nominees ever and could have a strong presence on the court for decades.
Even before the president made his choice, senators set the stage for the second-straight year of partisan clashes over the seat, left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Trump on Tuesday said Gorsuch, who cites Scalia as an inspiration, "has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline and has earned bipartisan support."
Trump promised to nominate a judge who took conservative stances on issues including gun rights and abortion. When he accepted the nomination, Gorsuch cautioned against judicial overreach based on policies judges want to see.
"It is the role 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, stretching for results he prefers rather than those the law demands," Gorsuch said.
Conservatives have praised Gorsuch for what they say is the application of that theory on religious issues, such as when he ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, a company that opposed parts of the Affordable Care Act that compelled coverage of contraception. In statements praising him after the nomination, key Republican lawmakers also highlighted what they called his close reading of text of the law.
In typical fashion for Trump, a former reality TV star and showman, he introduced Gorsuch in a prime-time announcement. It contrasts the more staid White House Rose Garden statement then President Barack Obama made when he nominated Washington appellate Judge Merrick Garland for the seat last year.
Obama picked Garland after Scalia's death nearly a year ago, but the Republican-controlled Congress never held a vote on the nomination. The stalemate caused frustration for Obama in his final year in office.
Currently, eight justices sit on the court, and Trump's pick will help to tip its balance. Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito form the more conservative wing, while Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer fill out the traditionally more liberal side. Anthony Kennedy is considered a moderate and swing vote.
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly promised a conservative justice to replace Scalia, and Gorsuch largely fits that bill on issues like religion, gun rights, crime and punishment and federal government power.
Gorsuch was nominated to his judgeship in 2006 by President George W. Bush. The Senate confirmed him by voice vote.
Gorsuch, who clerked for Kennedy, has established a reputation of solidly conservative rulings. He has expressed admiration for Scalia, saying in a speech last year that he was "not embarrassed to admit" that after he heard while skiing that Scalia had died, he cried his way down the mountain, according to SCOTUSblog.
Gorsuch, like Scalia, is described as an originalist, judges who give weight to the text of the Constitution as they believe it was intended by the Founding Fathers.
Gorsuch is "most noted" for defending religious exemptions for private companies and nonprofit groups related to the Affordable Care Act, The Washington Post reported. He has also argued against assisted suicide and euthanasia and has at times argued against large lawsuits against corporations.
Regardless of his qualifications for the seat, Gorsuch will likely face a battle to get confirmed. One Senate Democrat, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, threatened to filibuster Trump's nominee even before he announced him, calling the judgeship a "stolen seat."
That would mean Republicans would need 60 votes to confirm the justice. The party holds 52 seats.
Trump made a plea to Democrats not to hold up the nomination on Tuesday night.
"I hope that both Democrats and Republicans can come together for once for the good of the country," Trump said.
Several key Democratic senators immediately voiced opposition to Gorsuch. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that the "Senate must insist upon 60 votes for any Supreme Court nominee."
"Given his record, I have very serious doubts about Judge Gorsuch's ability to meet this standard. Judge Gorsuch has repeatedly sided with corporations over working people, demonstrated a hostility toward women's rights, and most troubling, hewed to an ideological approach to jurisprudence that makes me skeptical that he can be a strong, independent Justice on the Court," Schumer said in a statement.
Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Ron Wyden of Oregon also quickly denounced the nomination.
Anticipating the battle, Republicans began warning Democrats against blocking Trump's choice earlier on Tuesday.
"It's my sincere hope that our friends across the aisle will join us in thoughtfully reviewing and considering the next Supreme Court justice," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.
The White House also has gone on the offensive about potential efforts to block the nomination. Press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that "the default is if you're qualified for the position, then you should be confirmed."
Some Democrats may call foul on that characterization due to Garland's nomination.