In June of 1992, Judiciary Committee Chair, Joe Biden, took to the Senate floor asking members to not consider a Supreme Court nominee until after contentious presidential elections had taken place. Fast forward nearly 25 years and those words were echoed by Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, citing the “Biden rule” in refusing to hold hearings or take a vote on Obama nominee, Merrick Garland. Since Antonin Scalia’s untimely death in February of 2016, the ninth court seat has remained vacant.
McConnell’s gamble paid off. With the Republicans now in control of the Senate and the presidency, they are preparing to consider Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch as the next United States Supreme Court Justice. Gorsuch is holding meetings with individual legislators over the next few weeks and had a private meeting with Colorado Senator, Michael Bennett last week. Senate hearings are expected in early April.
In a White House announcement and press conference, Gorsuch delivered a prepared statement saying, “I pledge that if I am confirmed, I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this country.” He alluded to representing all the people, called Justice Scalia a “lion of the law” and the Constitution, “the greatest charter of human liberty the world has ever known.”
Trump wasted no time in setting up a harsh partisan political battle. In a press conference, Trump asked Senate leader McConnell to “go nuclear” – that is, prevent Democrats from blocking the nomination through filibuster by using a simple majority vote that has never before been used for the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. Employing this tactic would substantially lower the confirmation requirements for future nominees and further politicize the judicial process.
The Gorsuch nomination ushered in near-unanimous support from Republicans and mixed reactions from Democrats. In one of the most noticed endorsements of Gorsuch, former Democratic candidate for an at-large seat on the Colorado Board of Regents, Melissa Hart, penned a vote of confidence for Gorsuch in the Washington Post. In a piece entitled, “Yes, the GOP broke Supreme Court nominations. But blocking Gorsuch won’t fix them,” Hart goes out of her way to tout her experience working with Gorsuch at Colorado University who she claims, “has the integrity and commitment to the rule of law that a judge must have to stand up for the Constitution in the face of illegal actions taken by other branches of government.” Hart urges Democrats to respect the process of checks and balances and hold hearings for Gorsuch’s consideration. She also condemns Republicans for not taking that course of action with Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland saying, “The choice isn’t between Gorsuch and Merrick Garland. It’s between Gorsuch and blowing up the whole system.” She calls the Republican failure to consider the Garland nomination a “power grab.”
In an interview with La Voz, Hart said she was asked to write the article for the Washington Post. She declined a request from those pushing the Gorsuch nomination to provide a favorable quote about the judge. “This is not about politics, we have to have a system for selecting justices for the Supreme Court. I am a believer in playing by the rules.”
Former Democratic state legislator and Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, Karen Middleton, opposes the Gorsuch nomination. “Our biggest concern is Gorsuch’s fairly consistent record of backing anti-choice candidates and his legal rulings in both the Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby court cases.” Those cases are considered to be strongly anti-choice and have become the battle cry for organizations like NARAL worried about the erosion of women’s reproductive rights.
“We have a list of things Trump said on the day of the announcement and during the campaign.” said Middleton. “Including his promise to seat an anti-choice justice. For this reason and others, this particular nominee is troubling. His views are definitely conservative on issues like access to contraception, parental leave and access to abortion. Our agenda would not be dealt with favorably if a case comes before him.” Middleton recognizes that it make take another Trump Supreme Court appointment to tilt the court away from legal abortion but sees the Gorsuch nomination as a step in the direction of an attempt to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
Legal observers consider Gorsuch to be a constitutional originalist and progressives warn against Gorsuch’s stance on issues considered out of step with Colorado politics. While studying at Oxford, Gorsuch wrote extensively on the ethics and legal ramifications of physician assisted suicide concluding that despite some societal benefits, allowing the practice is morally wrong. In November of 2016, Coloradans voted nearly 2-1 in favor of allowing the practice.
The Gorsuch nomination is seen as a crafty move by Trump. The conservative Gorsuch has successfully navigated politically progressive Boulder County, teaching in the liberal law school and receiving positive reviews from students and colleagues on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Walking the political tightrope is nothing new to Gorsuch, having clerked for both Republican president (Reagan) appointed Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and Democratic appointed (Kennedy) Justice Byron White.
Neil Gorsuch is a Denver judge with deep roots in the Colorado legal community. His grandfather, John was a founding partner of the prominent Denver law firm, Gorsuch, Kirgis, Campbell, Walker and Grover. His parents married after graduating from the University of Colorado law school. His mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was appointed by Ronald Reagan as the first woman to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Burford’s tenure was brief, eventually forced to resign by Congressional political pressure under questionable management practices.
During Burford’s time in Washington, D.C. political circles, Gorsuch moved from Colorado to attend school. He attended east coast universities, holding degrees from Columbia and Harvard. He also studied at Oxford where he met his wife, Louise. They live in Boulder with their two daughters.
Gorsuch’s nomination follows a recent line of Coloradans landing prominent national positions including former Secretary of Energy and Secretary of Transportation, Federico Peña, who served in both posts under President Bill Clinton. Ken Salazar and Gale Norton have both held the position of Secretary of Interior under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, respectively.
Gorsuch would be the second U.S. Supreme Court Justice from Colorado. Colorado University graduate, Byron “Whizzer” White, was nominated by President John F. Kennedy and confirmed by the Senate in 1962. He served until retirement in 1993 and passed away in 2002.
A current Bush appointee to the Federal Court, Gorsuch has served for over a decade as a judge on the Tenth Circuit United States Court Of Appeals. Gorsuch, 49, would be the youngest member of the Supreme Court.