Who is Neil Gorsuch? A guide to the Supreme Court nominee

Richard Wolf
Neil Gorsuch
Aaron P. Bernstein | Reuters

Neil Gorsuch could be the 113th justice of the Supreme Court in less than three weeks. But most Americans still don't know much about him.

Here's a guide to the 49-year-old federal appeals court judge, who was nominated by President Trump on Jan. 31:

Straight out of central casting

For conservatives smarting at the loss of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died 13 months ago, Gorsuch is just what the doctor ordered. He has a Republican pedigree handed down from his mom, who served in President Ronald Reagan's administration. He graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, then got a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University.

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How does he compare to Scalia?

From Trump's original list of 21 potential nominees, Gorsuch was among the closest to being a Scalia clone in terms of his adherence to the Constitution and laws as written. In addition, his reader-friendly writing style has been compared favorably to Scalia's brilliant but more acerbic prose. And like Scalia, he's known for being an active questioner from the bench.

How would he change the court?

In the short term, Gorsuch could give conservatives the fifth vote they need to resolve some 4-4 deadlocks, such as last term's tie vote on the right of labor unions to collect dues from non-members, or this term's potential tie vote on whether religious institutions can compete for public funds. Longer term, he could help form a younger conservative nucleus, particularly if Trump gets to fill more vacancies.

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What's he like as a judge?

This is where originalism and textualism come in: Gorsuch basically divorces himself from policy matters or raw emotion by focusing on the words in the Constitution or the statutes requiring interpretation. As a result, liberals often complain about who wins and who loses the cases that come before him — but conservatives contend ideology isn't driving his decisions.

Will he be confirmed?

Gorsuch has some hurdles to clear, such as vehement opposition from liberal interest groups and most Senate Democrats. His brief tenure at the Justice Department during the war on terror means his fingerprints are on controversial subjects, such as the treatment of detainees and the use of warrantless wiretaps.

But thus far, he has emerged from the confirmation battle relatively unscathed, and his unanimous popularity among Republicans should be enough to carry him over the finish line — either by winning the 60 votes needed to clear a Democratic filibuster, or through a Senate rules change that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has threatened to carry out.