1 Feb 2017

Trump nominates Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court

2:34 pm on 1 February 2017

United States President Donald Trump has nominated 49-year-old federal appeals judge Neil Gorsuch for a lifetime job on the US Supreme Court.

President Trump announces his selection Neil Gorsuch, who stands with his wife Marie Louise, for the Supreme Court of the United States.

President Trump announces his selection, Neil Gorsuch, who stands with his wife Marie Louise, for the Supreme Court of the United States. Photo: AFP

Mr Trump picked Mr Gorsuch 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.

A Colorado native, Mr Gorsuch 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 Trump chose Mr Gorsuch over Thomas Hardiman of the Philadelphia-based 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals, according to a source involved in the selection process.

Some Democrats have threatened to pursue a procedural hurdle called a filibuster, meaning 60 votes would be needed in the 100-seat Senate unless its long-standing rules are changed.

Mr Trump's fellow Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, meaning some Democratic votes would be needed to confirm his pick.

Mr Trump's selection is 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 Scalia died at age 79 on 13 February 2016.

Mr Trump, who took office on 20 January, could name Scalia's replacement only because the Republican-led US Senate, in an action with little precedent in the country's history, refused to consider the nominee of Mr Trump's predecessor.

Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland on March 16 but Republican senators led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denied Garland the customary confirmation hearings and vote.

Who is Neil Gorsuch?

Mr Gorsuch 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 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.

He 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.

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

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 completed a doctorate in legal philosophy at Oxford University, spent several years in private practice and worked in George W. Bush's Justice Department.

Mr Gorsuch joined an opinion in 2013 saying that owners of private companies could object on religious grounds to a provision of the Obamacare health insurance law requiring employers to provide coverage for birth control for women.

Mr Gorsuch lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he raises horses and is a life-long outdoorsman.

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 had come from the eastern United States.

The official described 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 felt that Mr Gorsuch had the qualities 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.

- Reuters

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