The Denver Post – President Donald Trump plans to announce his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday night and one of the leading contenders is Judge Neil Gorsuch, a fourth-generation Coloradan and conservative jurist who has written against euthanasia and in favor of political term limits.
For several days, Gorsuch, a justice on the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, has stayed on the short list of nominees expected to fill the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last year. Also there: William Pryor Jr. of the 11th Circuit and Thomas Hardiman of the 3rd Circuit – though Trump could go in a different direction, too.
Gorsuch is considered a top pick for reasons both legal and political.
“I feel very good about his chances,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who pointed out that the Senate approved by voice vote his 2006 nomination for his current judicial post. “People felt so confident in him and his qualifications that they didn’t even require a recorded vote.”
Education and work history
His resume sparkles with top-caliber schools (Columbia, Harvard and Oxford). His work background includes time as a partner with the Washington law firm Kellogg Huber Hansen Todd Evans & Figel, a stint with the U.S. Department of Justice and clerkships with Supreme Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy.
Neil Gorsuch stands with his wife Louise.Carolyn Kaster, The Associated PressJudge Neil Gorsuch stands with his wife Louise as President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, to announce Gorsuch as his nominee for the Supreme Court.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
“He has grabbed every brass ring,” said David Lat, managing editor of the legal website Above the Law. “He’s brilliant, conservative and impossible to oppose. That’s a deadly combination for Democrats.”
Two other Colorado judges were on Trump’s original list of 21 potential nominees: Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid and Tim Tymkovich, chief judge for the 10th Circuit.
If nominated, Gorsuch would have to get approval from the U.S. Senate before sitting on the high court. But unlike 2006, he likely would encounter strong resistance from Democrats, who remain angry over how Republicans stalled for months the nomination of Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s pick.
Euthanasia, birth control and other notable cases
For conservatives, Gorsuch meets conservative standards as an originalist and a textualist — someone who interprets the Constitution and statutes as they were originally written. His family has ties to the Republican party locally and in Washington, and at the age of 49, he could sit on the high court for decades — a big plus for conservative supporters.
Gorsuch is best known nationally for taking the side of religious organizations that opposed parts of the Affordable Care Act that compelled coverage of contraceptives. In one of those cases, Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, he wrote of the need for U.S. courts to give broad latitude to religious beliefs.
“It is not for secular courts to rewrite the religious complaint of a faithful adherent, or to decide whether a religious teaching about complicity imposes ‘too much’ moral disapproval on those only ‘indirectly’ assisting wrongful conduct,” he noted in a concurring opinion.
The Supreme Court later ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, which now is not required to subsidize birth control that it finds objectionable.
Gorsuch also has written against euthanasia and assisted suicide, the latter of which Colorado legalized last November. “All human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong,” he wrote in his 2006 book “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.”
Gorsuch’s published works show conservative leanings. In a 2005 article in the National Review, Gorsuch argued that “American liberals have become addicted to the courtroom, relying on judges and lawyers rather than elected leaders and the ballot box, as the primary means of effecting their social agenda.”
Opponents cite the Hobby Lobby ruling and a dissenting position Gorsuch took in the 10th Circuit’s ruling against the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order that runs nursing homes for impoverished seniors. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the group, which sought an exemption to the health care law’s requirement that employer health plans provide access to contraception, sending the case back to district court.
“Judge Gorsuch has a record of ruling in a way that does not reflect Colorado values on reproductive rights. This is a pro-choice state that supports the constitutional right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade and the right to privacy enshrined in Griswold v. Connecticut — beliefs that are contradicted in Judge Gorsuch’s ruling in Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters,” Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, said in a statement.
“Colorado has a long, bipartisan history of supporting reproductive rights. Judge Gorsuch does not reflect the will of our state or the constitutional rights of American women and we would oppose his nomination,” she said.
Term limit advocacy
One position that might give pause to the lawmakers voting on his nomination is his past advocacy on behalf of term limits. In 1992 he co-wrote a paper for the Cato Institute that argued term limits are “constitutionally permissible.”
“Recognizing that men are not angels, the Framers of the Constitution put in place a number of institutional checks designed to prevent abuse of the enormous powers they had vested in the legislative branch,” he wrote. “A term limit, we suggest, is simply an analogous procedure designed to advance much the same substantive end.”
That stance, however, didn’t stop then-U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., from singing his praises in 2006 and noting Gorsuch’s past service as a Senate page. “It was here in the Senate that he made his foray into public service, and developed the passion for it that he exudes today,” Allard said.
Reputation in Colorado
In Colorado legal circles, Gorsuch, a Denver native who lives in Boulder and is married with children, has a reputation for writing easy-to-understand opinions and prowess on the slopes.
“I do know he’s a double-black diamond skier,” said former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis. “I have that on good authority.”
Mark Hansen, a longtime friend and former partner with Gorsuch, said he has a great sense of humor. His friend’s clients were sometimes mighty, sometimes humble.
Gorsuch won the largest damages ever under the Sherman Anti-trust Act on behalf of a Memphis business, Hansen said in a phone interview Monday.
He told a story about when Gorsuch won a much smaller award on behalf of a small gravel pit owner who was cheated out of his fair share of mining royalties. During his closing remarks, Gorsuch told the jurors, ”Look. This is what they did to my poor client.” Gorsuch paused, reached into his pants pockets, and turned them out.
“For Neil, this fight over a few thousand dollars’ worth of dirt was the most important case ever tried,” Hansen has previously recounted. “For Neil, this wasn’t gravel, this was good versus evil.” A woman who had been a member of the jury ran up to Gorsuch afterward and shouted, “You’re Perry Mason.”
Hansen said that his friend has an inexhaustible store of Winston Churchill quotes.
Gorsuch comes from a well-known Colorado Republican family. His mother, the late Anne Gorsuch Burford, was Environmental Protection Agency director for the Reagan administration for 22 months. She slashed the agency’s budget and resigned under fire in 1983 during a scandal over mismanagement of a $1.6 billion program to clean up hazardous waste dumps.