President Donald Trump will announce his nomination for the United States Supreme Court Tuesday evening, filling a months-long vacancy made by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year.
Denver native, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over the District of Colorado), is reportedly on the president’s short list for the bench. A graduate of Columbia University, Harvard Law School, and Oxford University, Gorsuch, 49, has a unique combination of Western roots and East Coast experience. After law school, Judge Gorsuch served as Law Clerk to Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals, for the D.C. Circuit, and later as Law Clerk to Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy.
In 2006, President George W. Bush appointed Judge Gorsuch, then age 39, to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Before Judge Gorsuch’s appointment to the Tenth Circuit, he was in private practice for ten years at a Washington D.C. law firm and a Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice.
Eric Citron of SCOTUSblog has described Judge Gorsuch as “the most natural successor to Justice Antonin Scalia on Trump’s shortlist, both in terms of his judicial style and his substantive approach.” Judicial commentators note that Judge Gorsuch has a brilliant legal mind and a reputation for being an active questioner during oral argument. Further, Judge Gorsuch’s written opinions have been known for their clarity, thorough reasoning, and commitment to a textual analysis of the law.
Since his appointment to the Tenth Circuit, Judge Gorsuch has authored numerous opinions, and received attention for his concurrence in Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius and his majority opinion and concurrence in Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch. In Hobby Lobby, Judge Gorsuch sided with the company owners and held that the parties’ understanding regarding the tenets of their faith should prevail over the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraception insurance coverage to employees. As a result of this opinion, Judge Gorsuch became known as a defender of religious liberties. In Gutierrez-Brizuela, Judge Gorsuch advocated for ending the Chevron doctrine to executive branch agencies’ interpretation of the statutes they implement. The Judge’s a position departs significantly from Supreme Court precedent dating to the 1980s.
Given Judge Gorsuch’s reputation and history on the Tenth Circuit, it is likely that if appointed and confirmed for a seat on the Supreme Court, he would uphold a conservative judicial theory in accord with principles of limited government and state’s rights—a philosophy that is strikingly similar to Justice Scalia.
Until President Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court becomes public on Tuesday, January 31, Judge Gorsuch—and the country—patiently await to learn the future of the Court.