Until the moment President Donald Trump actually announced his nominee for the United States Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman, the two candidates on the shortlist, were very aware that Trump could change his mind.
The president brought both men to Washington, D.C. in the hours before the big announcement. Leading up to the televised announcement at 7 p.m. Tuesday, the White House was going above and beyond to keep the pick secret and to build suspense worthy of a reality TV show about whom Trump would select as his nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, whose spot has been vacant since the conservative justice died suddenly of a heart attack a little less than a year ago.
Finally, though, Trump made his choice.
Gorsuch, a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, has been tapped to replace Scalia on the High Court.
He's a conservative, of course, but one who has the reputation of having a libertarian bent to his decisions and is well regarded by his colleagues.
One thing we know is that Gorsuch certainly has the biography of a future Supreme Court justice. He's the son of a Reagan cabinet member (albeit one who headed the Environmental Protection Agency for 22 months before resigning amid scandal over mismanaged funds for a program to clean up hazardous waste dumps), went to Harvard and Oxford, clerked for two Supreme Court justices, did a stint in the Justice Department and then worked for a decade on the federal bench.
And it's not just the bio that makes Gorsuch a good pick. He's renowned in legal circles as an accomplished legal scholar and a witty writer of legal opinions in the vein of Scalia. Like his would-be predecessor, Gorsuch is an originalist — he strictly interprets the Constitution.
While Gorsuch doesn't have a ton of opinions to sift through — the hallmark of a good Supreme Court nominee ever since the Robert Bork hearings went infamously off the rails in the 1980s — his jurisprudence is also very similar to Scalia's. Gorsuch raises an eyebrow to overreaching federal prosecution; he doesn't like it when anyone pushes the legal statutes to try to punish people more than befits the crime. He has never written an opinion on Roe vs. Wade. He is considered pro-life, but he has also been accused of not being pro-life enough, and overall his views on abortion are not well defined.
At the same time, Gorsuch favors the death penalty and thinks religious corporations should not have to provide contraception as part of insurance plans.
In other words, if he is confirmed, Gorsuch will take Scalia's place on the court, and Justice Anthony Kennedy will go back to his role as being the swing vote among the justices. But Gorsuch is no done deal.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
When it comes down to it, Gorsuch is a safe and conventional choice, one that Republicans are over the moon about. But Democrats are still incensed since the Republicans refused to even hold hearings for Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland.
This is a sore spot for the Dems and that's going to matter going forward because Gorsuch now has to fill out an intensive questionnaire, meet with senators and then finally face the 20-member Senate Judiciary Committee for televised hearings. The committee will vote on him and then after that — even if the committee refuses to confirm him for some reason — the final decision will be in the hands of the Senate.
Right now, Gorsuch should technically have it in the bag. He only needs 51 votes and the GOP holds the Senate 52-46 (two independents caucus with the Democrats). From there both sides will have a tricky decision to make. If the Dems decide to filibuster his nomination, the Republicans will need 60 votes to end the filibuster and confirm him, meaning some Democrats will have to defect. Otherwise, the Republicans could use the nuclear option, a seldom-used maneuver to force a filibuster to end, which goes against Senate traditions.
So now we just have to see how this goes, but don't get too excited about the idea that this thing will get resolved quickly. Stranger things have happened, of course, but we haven't had a smooth Supreme Court confirmation process in years, and there's no reason to assume that this time around will be any different.