President Donald Trump has nominated federal appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 49-year-old Gorsuch has served on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver since 2006, after being appointed by President George W. Bush. He once worked at the Supreme Court as a law clerk.
As a clerk, "I began my legal career working for Byron White," the last Coloradan to serve on the Court, Gorsuch said after being introduced by the president.
If approved by the Senate, Gorsuch would take the seat left vacant after Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly. Republicans refused to consider President Barack Obama's nominee for the seat, saying the choice should go Obama's successor.
Gorsuch, a Coloradan, is a Columbia University graduate who got his law degree at Harvard and then studied at Oxford as a Marshall Scholar. If confirmed, he would be the youngest justice since Clarence Thomas joined the court in 1991 at age 43.
NPR's Nina Totenberg reported earlier about Gorsuch's Western heritage:
He's a Colorado native, a Westerner. He's proof that you can acquire a personality that is diametrically different from your parents. His mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was a highly controversial take no prisoners head of the EPA during the Reagan administration, known for being quite the bomb thrower. But lawyers and judges alike described the judge as unfailingly polite, diplomatic, a good listener and a good colleague to the point of being obsequious. He's very conservative on social issues, best known for his votes under the Affordable Care Act upholding challenges to regulations requiring employers to provide birth control coverage for women.
Gorsuch sided with Hobby Lobby in its appeal over whether the company's health insurance plan should be required to cover certain kinds of birth control under the rules of the ACA. The Supreme Court upheld the 10th Circuit's ruling in favor of the company.
In the case of the nuns, he voted to rehear a decision that he said "has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty." Members of the religious order argued that not they shouldn't have to tell employees where to find contraceptive coverage. To do so, they said, was a violation of their religious beliefs. The case eventually went before the Supreme Court, which sent it back to lower courts to work out a solution.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Trump's "outstanding decision" in nominating Gorsuch and expressed hope for a speedy confirmation process. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer says he has "serious doubts" Gorsuch is within what Democrats consider the legal mainstream.
If confirmed, Gorsuch may also have an impact on how the high court addresses issues unique to the West.
Gorsuch hasn’t authored major decisions on western issues, like water and public lands use. But he did side with Colorado when the state’s Renewable Energy Standard was challenged by a coal company. And he also sided with homeowners in a long-running dispute over nuclear contamination at Rocky Flats.
"Judge Gorsuch hikes, he fly-fishes, and he’s even at least familiar with water law, which isn’t a big issue on the East Coast. So he brings a missing Western perspective to the court," said Tony Flesor, who writes Law Week Colorado.
Janie Nitze, who clerked for Gorsuch, says the nominee has "Western grit."
"It’s hard to explain why I think he has it, but he absolutely I think does have it," Nitze said. "I think that translates in some ways to a spine of steel and a degree of independence."