Partisan Battle Expected Over Gorsuch's High Court Nomination

Feb 1, 2017
Originally published on February 1, 2017 7:21 am
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President Trump announced his nomination to the Supreme Court last night. And already there are indications a nasty partisan battle is in the offing, a battle that perhaps is unavoidable given the fact that, for almost a year, Republicans refused to even consider President Obama's nominee to fill the same Supreme Court vacancy. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports on what may be ahead for federal Judge Neil Gorsuch.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Last night's primetime rollout in the East Room was as close as you can get to the White House version of "The Apprentice," with President Trump striding purposefully and alone to the microphones, dragging out the suspense as to who the nominee would be to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I made a promise to the American people if I were elected president, I would find the very best judge in the country for the Supreme Court.

TOTENBERG: And, said the president, I am a man of my word, finally introducing Judge Gorsuch who popped out on cue from behind a door to exclamations and applause from Trump and the crowd.

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TRUMP: So was that a surprise? Was it?

TOTENBERG: Finally it was the judge's turn to speak, concluding this way.

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NEIL GORSUCH: I respect, too, the fact that in our legal order it is for Congress and not the courts to write new laws. It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people's representatives. A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge stretching for results he prefers rather than those the law demands.

TOTENBERG: Gorsuch is young, 49, with impeccable conservative credentials, an Ivy League pedigree and a degree from Oxford to boot. Conservative activists hope that he brings another asset, namely that having clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, his appointment will give Kennedy the assurance he might need to retire and give Donald Trump a second appointment. Gorsuch is the son of Anne Gorsuch Burford, President Reagan's take no prisoners EPA chief. He's a cerebral conservative known for his vivid and clear writing. He lives on a ranch in Colorado with his wife, two daughters, two horses and a barn cat.

Democrats bitter about a Supreme Court seat they see as stolen by Republicans are not likely to give him an easy ride. Several have announced they will not vote for Gorsuch, others already have expressed what they call concerns about his judicial record. Gorsuch is perhaps best known publicly for votes he cast siding with challenges to provisions in the Affordable Care Act that require employer health insurance to cover birth control. He's also written a book critical of legalizing assisted suicide, but at the same time he suggested that individuals should have the right to refuse treatment even if that leads to their deaths. On the subject of federal regulation, he is perhaps more conservative than the conservative Scalia. While Scalia endorsed longtime judicial deference to reasonable agency rule-making, Gorsuch has suggested that the time may have come to reverse those precedents.

Gorsuch will have important allies in the fight to win confirmation. The Judicial Crisis Network, one of many conservative groups expected to work hard on his behalf, has already announced its initial budget of $10 million on TV ads and other messaging for the nominee. His biggest ally though will be the Senate Republican majority, which ultimately has the votes to confirm Gorsuch on its own unless Democrats are able to mount a sustained filibuster. It would take the votes of all the Republicans plus eight Democrats to break a filibuster. And while the Republican leadership may not be anxious to change the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominees, President Trump has already urged them to do just that. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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