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Let the confirmation battles begin.
US President Donald Trump has announced that he is nominating Neil Gorsuch to fill an empty seat on the US Supreme Court’s powerful nine-member bench. Here’s a quick introduction to the man who will be at the centre of intense scrutiny by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the weeks to come:
Name: Neil Gorsuch
Current job: Judge, 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals (based in Denver)
Age: 49 years old
Background: Judge Gorsuch is from Denver, and attended Columbia University for his undergraduate studies, followed by law school at Harvard and a doctorate from Oxford University. He has clerked for two Supreme Court Justices – Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, who will become his colleague if confirmed – and had a stint in private practice before spending a year in the US Justice Department under President George W. Bush.
Previous nominations: Judge Gorsuch was tapped for a spot on the 10th Circuit by President Bush.
Religion – Judge Gorsuch was part of the 10th Circuit’s ruling in Sebelius v Hobby Lobby, over a controversial mandate in the Affordable Care Act that required employee health insurance to cover contraception. The 10th Circuit held that the mandate burdened an employer’s right to freely express his religion, which disapproved of the use of birth control.
Criminal law – Judge Gorsuch has a reputation for siding with criminal defendants when he feels the government has overstepped its authority.
Administrative law – It’s not as high-profile as Hobby Lobby, but as executive agencies have grown over the years, courts have struggled with how to define their powers. In a ruling that rattled this highly technical but important area of the law, Judge Gorsuch rejected what was known as the Chevron doctrine – that if Congress passes a broadly worded law, it’s up to the agency to interpret that in a way that is not clearly out-of-bounds – saying that it has permitted “executive bureaucracies to swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power and concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design.”
Even if the subject matter may seem like a snooze to non-lawyers, the ruling is a good example of why legal observers across the ideological spectrum have praised Judge Gorsuch’s writing style.
Who might he resemble? While some commentators have noted he has seemed at times like a natural heir to Antonin Scalia’s style of constitutional interpretation, he has also shown glimpses of the same practical, consensus-building streak as the Supreme Court’s current chief justice, John Roberts.