One of the key reasons many conservatives threw their support behind President Donald Trump—even reluctantly—was the need to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court with a justice who has conservative and originalist bona fides. Trump is reportedly zeroing in on one such candidate: Judge Neil Gorsuch.
Who exactly is Gorsuch, and what can people expect from him on the Supreme Court if he's confirmed? Here are seven things you need to know about Gorsuch.
1. Gorsuch was appointed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals by President George W. Bush in 2006. The Senate confirmed him without much objection.
2. Gorsuch has an extensive legal resume prior to being confirmed to the appeals court. These include, per the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) blog:
He was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford, graduated from Harvard Law School, clerked for prominent conservative judges (Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as well as Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme Court), and was a high-
ranking official in the Bush Justice Department before his judicial appointment.
There is one part of that background that may be of concern to those hoping for an originalist justice:
I object to the description of either Byron White or Anthony Kennedy as a "conservative judge." https://t.co/cb70vFNwJP— Josh Hammer (@josh_hammer) January 23, 2017
3. Gorsuch is only 49-years-old. His age may be why Trump is focusing on him over Judge William Pryor—who was once believed to Trump's top choice—as Gorsuch is five years younger than Pryor. His relatively young age gives him a better chance of having a longer influence on the court.
4. Gorsuch is reminiscent of Scalia in several ways. University of Denver law professor Justin Marceau told the Denver Post that Gorsuch would be Scalia's "intellectual equal and almost certainly his equal on conservative jurisprudential approaches to criminal justice and social justice issues that are bound to keep coming up in the country," although Gorsuch may not be as "combative" as Scalia was on the court.
The SCOTUS blog notes that Gorsuch produces the same kind of "entertaining" and "incisive" writing Scalia became famous for, making him "the most natural successor to Justice Antonin Scalia on the Trump shortlist."
"Like Scalia, Gorsuch also seems to have a set of judicial/ideological commitments apart from his personal policy preferences that drive his decision-making," the SCOTUS blog writes. "He is an ardent textualist (like Scalia); he believes criminal laws should be clear and interpreted in favor of defendants even if that hurts government prosecutions (like Scalia); he is skeptical of efforts to purge religious expression from public spaces (like Scalia); he is highly dubious of legislative history (like Scalia); and he is less than enamored of the dormant commerce clause (like Scalia)."
5. There is one notable area in which Gorsuch and Scalia disagree: the Chevron doctrine. The Chevron doctrine is the practice in which the courts allow federal agencies to broadly interpret law to empower themselves through massive amounts of regulation. Scalia tended to defer to the Chevron doctrine, while Gorsuch has been critical of it as a "behemoth" that has resulted in the concentration of "federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design."
Given that the Obama administration unleashed over 97,000 pages of regulations in 2016 alone, this is a crucial perspective.
6. Gorsuch wrote a book that was critical of assisted suicide. The book, titled The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, was published in 2006 and was described by the Princeton Press as "a nuanced, novel, and powerful moral and legal argument against legalization [of assisted suicide and euthanasia], one based on a principle that, surprisingly, has largely been overlooked in the debate—the idea that human life is intrinsically valuable and that intentional killing is always wrong."
Ed Morrissey read through the book and seemed to be impressed:
In ch. 9, Gorsuch gets to his own arguments on the intrinsic value of human life, and its correlation to equal treatment under the law.— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) January 21, 2017
"To act intentionally against life is to suggest that its value rests only on its transient instrumental usefulness for other ends" Gorsuch— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) January 21, 2017
.@bbmoe However, ch 10 leaves little doubt about how Gorsuch would see laws such as the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. Compelling.— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) January 21, 2017
.@bbmoe My pleasure. I think chapter 9 is the most pertinent key to understanding Gorsuch. Ch. 10 shows his judicial process, too.— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) January 21, 2017
In fact, Catholics would be very, very comfortable (and familiar) with Gorsuch's reasoning on sanctity-of-life basis for equal treatment.— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) January 21, 2017
7. It has been insinuated that Gorsuch would not be a pro-life Supreme Court justice, but the evidence suggests otherwise. The charge was made by Andy Schlafly, a pro-life activist who claimed that Gorsuch has a penchant for citing Judge Harry Blackmun rulings that supported the legality of abortion, has never used the phrase "unborn child," and has never spoken out in favor of the pro-life view. However, Ed Whelan notes at National Review that Gorsuch wrote in his book that the court admitted that "no constitutional basis exists for preferring the mother’s liberty interests over the child's life" if they had considered unborn babies to be people.
Whelan also points out that "Gorsuch has never cited a Blackmun decision on standing in support of liberalized standing" and that Gorsuch gave a strong dissent in Planned Parenthood Association of Utah v. Herbert:
As the faithful reader will recall from these posts of mine, in the aftermath of the Center for Medical Progress’s release of videos depicting various Planned Parenthood affiliates’ ugly involvement in harvesting body parts, Utah governor Gary Herbert directed state agencies “to cease acting as an intermediary for pass-through federal funds” to Planned Parenthood’s Utah affiliate. But after the district court denied Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction against Herbert’s directive, a divided panel, on very weak reasoning, ruled that Planned Parenthood was entitled to a preliminary injunction. Gorsuch’s dissent dismantles the panel majority’s reasoning.
All in all, it would appear that Gorsuch's body of work suggests that he would follow Scalia's originalist philosophy on the Supreme Court if confirmed.
Follow Aaron Bandler on Twitter @bandlersbanter.