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6 Things to Know About New Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch

The U.S. Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch on Friday to be the 113th justice of the Supreme Court, filling the seat left vacant since the death of Antonin Scalia over a year ago. 

Gorsuch was confirmed in a 54-45 vote, but the confirmation battle was far from easy.  Senate Republicans had to invoke the “nuclear option,” which lowered the threshold to confirm Supreme Court justices to a simple majority.  The rule change came after Democrats, still upset about the treatment of former President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, tried to filibuster the nomination.

Democrats were upset with how little information they believe Gorsuch shared about his judicial philosophy during 20 hours of confirmation hearings. The Colorado-based federal judge offered few specifics about specific court cases and policies

Republicans see Gorsuch as in the mold of Scalia and someone who will maintain a conservative majority on the Court.

The Supreme Court has been operating with just eight justices for nearly a year since the death of Antonin Scalia last February.  The Republican-led Senate refused to act on President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, because they argued the new president should be able to fill the empty seat. On Tuesday, President Trump made his choice: Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch.

"Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline, and has earned bipartisan support," Trump said while announcing his pick. "The qualifications of Judge Gorsuch are beyond dispute. He is the man of our country and a man who our country really needs and needs badly to ensure the rule of law and the rule of justice."

Conservative groups have been supportive of Gorsuch, who once praised the man who occupied the Supreme Court seat he hopes to fill. “The great project of Justice Scalia’s career was to remind us of the differences between judges and legislators,” Gorsuch told students at Case Western Reserve University School of Law after Scalia’s death.

Here’s what you should know about the man who could be the 113th justice to serve on the Supreme Court:

  1. Gorsuch grew up in Colorado but moved to Washington, DC, as a teenager when his mother was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman to head the Environmental Protection Agency. 
  2. He is 49 years old and would be the youngest justice on the Supreme Court.  If confirmed, Gorsuch would also be the fifth sitting justice with a law degree from Harvard. 
  3. After law school, Gorsuch clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, who he would serve alongside if confirmed. He would be just the seventh justice to have clerked for a Supreme Court justice.  Others include current Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
  4. He worked at a Washington, DC, law firm for 10 years before serving in the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration.  President Bush nominated Gorsuch to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006, and the Senate confirmed him by a voice vote. 
  5. Gorsuch believes in Constitutional Originalism and thinks judges should interpret the Constitution literally, as the Founding Fathers intended it at the time.  Judges should “apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be -- not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best,” Gorsuch told law students at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. 
    In the year before his appointment to the Appeals Court, Gorsuch also argued in favor of judicial independence and warned about the politicization of the courts.  “[The] addiction to the courtroom as the place to debate social policy is bad for the country and bad for the judiciary,” Gorsuch wrote for National Review. “The politicization of the judiciary undermines the only real asset it has–its independence. Judges come to be seen as politicians and their confirmations become just another avenue of political warfare.”
  6. In the controversial Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case in 2013, Gorsuch said the mandate for employers to provide contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act was a violation of the rights to religious freedom of Christian employers and religious organizations.  When the Supreme Court took up the case a year later, the justices agreed with the Tenth Circuit, ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores in a 5-4 decision

This post has been updated with the Senate confirmation of Gorsuch.