Gorsuch has the typical pedigree of a high court justice. He graduated from Columbia, Harvard and Oxford, clerked for two Supreme Court justices and did a stint at the Department of Justice. He attended Harvard Law with former President Barack Obama. On Tuesday, Obama’s former ethics czar, Norm Eisen, another classmate, tweeted: “Hearing rumors Trump’s likely Supreme Court pick is Neil Gorsuch, my (and President Obama’s!) 1991 Harvard Law classmate.If so, a great guy!” Since 2006, he has served on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in Colorado. He is an outdoorsman who fishes, hunts and skis. On the court, conservatives hope he will become the intellectual heir to Scalia, long the outspoken leader of the conservative bloc.
“The real appeal of Gorsuch nomination is he’s likely to be the most effective conservative nominee in terms of winning over Anthony Kennedy and forging conservative decisions on the court,” said Jeffrey Rosen of the National Constitution Center. “He’s unusual for his memorable writing style, the depth of his reading and his willingness to rethink constitutional principles from the ground up. Like Justice Scalia, he sometimes reaches results that favor liberals when he thinks the history or text of the Constitution or the law require it, especially in areas like criminal law or the rights of religious minorities, but unlike Scalia he’s less willing to defer to regulations and might be more willing to second-guess Trump’s regulatory decision.”
Gorsuch is a favorite of legal conservatives because he has sharply questioned a three-decade old legal precedent that many on the right believe has given too much power to the regulatory state. The landmark 1984 Supreme Court ruling involving the Chevron oil company held that courts should defer to federal agencies’ reasonable interpretations of ambiguous federal laws. In a ruling last August in an immigration case, Gorsuch questioned the wisdom of that doctrine, arguing that the meaning of the law is for judges to decide, not federal bureaucrats.
“Where in all this does a court interpret the law and say what it is?” Gorsuch asked in an extended digression on the subject. “When does a court independently decide what the statute means and whether it has or has not vested a legal right in a person? Where Chevron applies that job seems to have gone extinct.” Other rulings give conservatives confidence that Gorsuch is a strong supporter of religious freedom rights. Last September, he joined a dissent arguing that requirements for contraception coverage in Obamacare ran roughshod over the rights of religious non-profits.
Gorsuch also wrote a 2000 law journal article and a 2006 book arguing strongly against assisted-suicide laws. The practice of allowing the terminally ill to end their lives is now legal in six states and is on the verge of being legalized in Washington, D.C. While Gorsuch has a longer Washington resume than other judges considered by Trump, his family’s experience in the city was a searing one.
Gorsuch’s mother, Anne Burford Gorsuch, ran the Environmental Protection Agency at the outset of the Reagan administration. She was forced to resign in 1983, facing a criminal investigation and a House contempt of Congress citation over records related to alleged political favoritism in toxic-waste cleanups. She maintained her innocence and was never charged.