WASHINGTON — Donald Trump who has made some pretty out-of-the-box choices since he became president of the United States, decided to go establishment for his first Supreme Court pick.
Judge Neil Gorsuch is a laid back, fly-fishing, fourth-generation Coloradan who also happens to have an Ivy League education, a brilliant legal mind and an established judicial record.
But for Trump, one of Gorsuch’s key qualifications is that in many ways his judicial philosophy matches that of the man he will replace: Justice Antonin Scalia.
“The late, great Justice Antonin Scalia,” Trump said during his big reveal, “was in my mind throughout the decision making process.”
The comments were directed in part to Maureen Scalia, the justice’s widow, who sat in the front row.
Although Gorsuch clerked for Justice Byron White and Justice Anthony Kennedy, he was a deep admirer of Scalia.
“Justice Scalia was a lion of the law,” Gorsuch said at the White House. “I miss him.”
Gorsuch was on a ski trip last winter when he learned of the 79-year-old’s death.
As he told an audience at Case Western Reserve School of Law last February, “I immediately lost what breath I had left, and I am not embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t see the rest of the way down the mountain for the tears.” He went on to describe Scalia’s monumental impact on constitutional law, noting that he was “docile in private life but a ferocious fighter when at work, with a roar that could echo for miles.”
The two jurists enjoyed a fly-fishing trip in Colorado as is captured by a picture of their suntanned faces. “Fond memories of a day on the Colorado, with warm regards,” Scalia inscribed the photo.
“Tonight President Trump did exactly what he told the American people he would do — nominate a distinguished, exceptionally qualified, and widely respected jurist to fill Justice’s Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court,” said Leonard A. Leo, who advised Trump on the pick.
Like Scalia, Gorsuch attended Ivy League schools. In fact, if Gorsuch joins the bench, each one of he new colleagues will have also attended elite universities.
But Gorsuch went a step further. He also went to Oxford.
In some ways, however, Gorsuch is an outsider with an insider’s experience.
Gorsuch spent his formative years in Washington, D.C. He attended an elite high school while his mother served as President Ronald Reagan’s EPA administrator.
After graduation, and his clerkships, he worked in the Justice Department and later at a law firm.
But then, when George W. Bush tapped him for the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006, (he was confirmed with no opposition) he moved back to Colorado.
There he lives on a small farm with his wife, two teenage daughters, two horses, two dogs and a barn cat.
He teaches at the University of Colorado Law School and had to duck out of a class Tuesday night to attend the White House ceremony.
That bucolic life might change over the next few weeks while he will be subject to “murder boards” as his allies prepare him for hearings and he will have to embark on courtesy visits with U.S. senators.
His Senate confirmation hearing could be particularly contentious because Democrats are still seething mad after the Republican senators blocked hearings for Merrick Garland, then-President Barack Obama’s court nominee.
And they will scrutinize his record.
He is well-known, for instance, for a case called Hobby Lobby where he ruled in favor of closely held corporations who object to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare.
Michele L. Jawando, of the Center for American Progress issued a blistering comment even before he was officially chosen.
“The Supreme Court affirmed Gorsuch’s ruling in Hobby Lobby, a decision that has been invoked to justify religious exemptions to child labor bans, anti-kidnapping laws, and anti-discrimination laws,” she said.
Jawando is also worried about other opinions he’s written and his judicial philosophy.
“Gorsuch has an extremist philosophy that would give unelected judges more power to strike down federal regulations that protect workers, consumers, and the environment. Clarence Thomas is the only current justice who shares this deregulatory philosophy,” she said.
On Wednesday morning the next fight begins.