quarta-feira, 1 de fevereiro de 2017
Neil Gorsuch nominated by Donald Trump to fill supreme court vacancy
Neil Gorsuch nominated by Donald Trump to fill supreme court vacancy
Known for his firm conservative views, Gorsuch could tip the court’s balance on hot-button issues such as abortion, voting rights and religious equality
Tom McCarthy, Lauren Gambino and Ben Jacobs
Wednesday 1 February 2017 01.04 GMT
President Donald Trump has nominated circuit court judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant seat on the US supreme court, setting up a showdown with congressional Democrats and activists over a pick that could shape the ideological bent of the court for a generation.
Gorsuch, 49, the youngest supreme court nominee in 25 years, was among a group of federal judges reported in recent weeks to be on Trump’s shortlist. A strict adherent of judicial restraint known for sharply-written opinions and bedrock conservative views, Gorsuch, a Colorado native, is popular among his peers and is seen as having strong backing among Republicans generally.
The nomination landed at a moment of sharply-increasing alarm amongst progressives that the Trump administration plans to pursue extremist policies on core questions likely to come before the court, from religious equality to abortion rights, voting rights, access to healthcare, LGBT rights, anti-discrimination protections and more.
Announcing his pick in the White House’s East Room, Trump described reading Gorsuch’s writings “closely”, as Gorsuch stood next to Trump listening with a fixed expression of earnest concern, holding his wife, Louise, in one arm.
“I can only hope that both Democrats and Republicans can come together for once for the good of the country,” Trump said.
Some prominent Senate Democrats immediately denounced Gorsuch as “unacceptable” and “extreme”. But it was unclear if there would be sufficient support to mount a filibuster and force an historic showdown over the nomination and Senate procedure.
“Make no mistake, Senate Democrats will not simply allow but require an exhaustive, robust, and comprehensive debate on Judge Gorsuch’s fitness to be a supreme court justice,” said Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
If Democrats refuse to support Gorsuch, Republicans could decide to change the Senate rules to confirm him. But many Republicans are wary of this move, and are hopeful vulnerable Democrats will come around.
Republicans were effusive in their praise of Gorsuch, calling him “highly qualified”, “universally respected” and, above all, “mainstream”. “There’s nothing not to like about Neil Gorsuch,” said Jeff Flake of Arizona. Even more enthusiastic praise came from Ben Sasse of Nebraska who told the Guardian that Gorsuch “is the kind of person that the founders envisioned sitting on the supreme court”.
Many Democrats are particularly bitter about the confirmation process after Republicans’ refusal last year to consider the nomination of circuit court judge Merrick Garland, Obama’s selection to replace Scalia. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell argued at the time that it would be inappropriate for a departing president – 11 months remained in Obama’s term – to make such a significant and long-term appointment.
“This is a stolen seat being filled by an illegitimate and extreme nominee, and I will do everything in my power to stand up against this assault on the Court,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon who has said he is committed to blocking the nominee.
The Democratic National Committee said Gorsuch’s nomination “raises some very serious questions” about whether he would be an independent and impartial justice, and noted that Trump’s litmus test for a nominee was a person who is “pro-life” and would overturn Roe v Wade.
Trump’s nominee has the potential to tip the court one way or the other on important questions. If confirmed, Gorsuch would return the court to nine justices, filling a seat left vacant since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.
Working for the last year with an even number of justices, the court issued split 4-4 decisions on high-stakes questions such as the protection of undocumented immigrants and the health of public unions, leaving lower court rulings in place.
The next justice to be confirmed may break such ties, giving new strength to the court’s conservative bloc, which could be further buttressed by future Trump nominations in the case of the retirement or death of a justice. One of the four liberal-leaning justices on the court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, turns 84 in March. Justice Anthony Kennedy, a centrist on the court who has sometimes split tie votes for the progressive wing, is 80 years old.
Trumps nomination of Neil Gorsuch would fill a seat left vacant since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Gorsuch’s track record as a judge on the US court of appeals for the 10th circuit does not shed obvious light on how he might rule as a supreme court justice on hot-button topics such as abortion and LGBT rights. He is the author of a book about euthanasia in which he writes, “to act intentionally against life is to suggest that its value rests only on its transient instrumental usefulness for other ends.”
Ideological strands running through Gorsuch’s appeals court rulings would seem likely to endear him to congressional Republicans and Trump’s conservative base. He has shown himself to be solicitous to claims of religious exemptions from the law, to gun rights claims and to the prosecution of death penalty cases.
Gorsuch did get praise from some Democrats. Neal Katyal, a former solicitor general in the Obama administration wrote in an editorial for the New York Times entitled “Why Liberals should back Neil Gorsuch” that Trump’s nominee was an “extraordinary judge and man”.
During Trump’s announcement, Gorsuch addressed the crowd briefly, declaring himself “honored and humbled” and promising to be a “faithful servant to the constitution and laws of this great country” and paying tribute to the principles of partiality, independence, collegiality and courage.
“A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge,” Gorsuch said, “stretching” for rulings he desires instead of reading the law on the page.
Before he left the lectern, Trump sought confirmation that his primetime announcement had gone over as planned.
“So was that a surprise?” he said. “Was it?”
Gorsuch is a former clerk for Justice Kennedy, and some conservative analysts theorize that he could assert a rightward influence on the centrist Ronald Reagan nominee.
Chuck Schumer had said he would filibuster Trump’s pick if he was outside the “mainstream”. On Tuesday night, he said he had “serious doubts” that Gorsuch would prove himself to be within the “legal” mainstream. Others used similar language, with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi saying on CNN that Gorsuch is a “very hostile appointment” and “outside the mainstream”.
But a Democratic blockade seemed unlikely after Dick Durbin, the number 2 ranking Democrat in the Senate, issued a statement calling for a floor vote on Gorsuch.
“I will meet with Judge Gorsuch and support a hearing and a vote for him—both of which were denied to an eminently qualified nominee presented by President Obama,” Durbin said in a statement.
Under current Senate rules, which require 60 votes for a supreme court confirmation, Gorsuch would need to win the support of multiple Democrats, who count 48 Senate caucus members to the Republicans’ 52.
If the Democrats follow through with a filibuster, however, those rules could change. The previous Democratic leadership of the Senate changed the rules to require fewer votes for the confirmation of most executive nominees, and the current Republican leadership could make an additional change to the rules. McConnell earlier had vowed to confirm Trump’s nominee.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer downplayed the looming threat of an all-consuming political brawl over Trump’s nominee, telling reporters on Tuesday that he believed the Senate would reach the 60-vote threshold required to confirm supreme court appointees.
Republicans dismissed any lingering hard feelings from the Senate’s refusal to hold hearings on Garland. “I think that’s a bogus argument” said Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “I thought it was a bit unfair when you look through the history of the country when a vacancy occurs in the last year of a sitting president and the primary process is almost over ... if that’s the reason they use, it’s a bogus reason.
Interest groups across the political spectrum will spend millions on a public campaign to legitimize or tear down a supreme court nominee. Already, conservative groups are running ads to pressure Senate Democrats in red states into siding with Republicans over the nominee.
A fly-fishing enthusiast and skier who lives outside Boulder, Colorado, Gorsuch lived in Washington DC as a boy, after his mother Anne Gorsuch Burford was appointed by Reagan to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. After graduating from Columbia University, Gorsuch, who is said to have “an inexhaustible store of Winston Churchill quotes”, went on to Harvard Law school and attended Oxford University on a Marshall scholarship. He worked as a corporate lawyer in Washington for a decade before his appointment to the circuit court by George W Bush in 2006, a post to which the Senate confirmed him by voice vote.
The supreme court is currently in recess and is scheduled to reconvene for conference on 17 February.