During a speech on Jan. 31, President Trump announced his choice for the newest Supreme Court Associate Justice, Neil Gorsuch, and filling the seat left by the death of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. This announcement comes following much controversy concerning the empty seat, and has been met with criticism from the left.
Supreme Court justices hear and decide the highest cases in the country, and rule what does or does not violate the constitution. For example, it was the Supreme Court who decided that a government ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Supreme Court Justices serve for life, and may only be replaced when they resign or pass away. This is why Gorsuch’s age will play so much into the talk surrounding his appointment as he may have an opportunity to sit on the court for 25 years or more due to his relative young age of 49.
Gorsuch previously sat as a judge for the Tenth District United States Court of Appeals. Gorsuch has ruled on many cases, and is generally seen as a more conservative or right-leaning judge. Gorsuch helped decide the case Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, a religious freedom case about a business’ rights to refuse to provide birth control through insurance based on religious grounds. Gorsuch sided with Hobby Lobby in this case, gaining much criticism on Gorsuch being anti-woman and pro-religion. Gorsuch has also published “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” a well-known book on assisted suicide and his stance against it. Gorsuch compares the issue to consensual homicide, and feels like it should be banned, an issue that will undoubtedly come up for vote during his tenure as a Supreme Court Judge.
Gorsuch is also seen as an “originalist”, someone who interprets the constitution as firm and never changing. Judges who fall into this category, such as the late Antonin Scalia, interpret the constitution as it was meant at the time of it being written. These judges typically fall on the more conservative side of the political spectrum. Gorsuch is seen as a successor to Scalia in many ways, sharing many of the late judge’s ideals, beliefs, and even shared a close friendship with the judge. Professor Francis Orlando, who teaches political science, thinks Gorsuch won’t have much effect on the court as Gorsuch is so similar to late Justice Scalia.
“I think that the court will probably end up in a similar place as it was last year before Antonin Scalia’s passing. Neil Gorsuch, as Antonin Scalia did before him, belongs to the originalist school of judicial interpretation,” said Orlando.
Despite Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch, there is much controversy surrounding his pick and also surrounding the whole process. Antonin Scalia passed away in Feb. of 2016, leaving a vacancy. Scalia was widely regarded as the most conservative of the justices, so his passing and potential replacement by a liberal judge would affect the Supreme Court for many years to come in the left’s favor. With this reasoning, the republican lead congress announced that they will not confirm any Supreme Court justices that then President Obama nominates. Obama then nominated a moderate-liberal judge, Merrick Garland, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals to the position.
As promised, many republicans of the congress, led by the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced that they withhold consent and will not vote to confirm the supreme court nominee, using the reasoning that the American people should choose who is in the supreme court in the coming election.
However, several members of the senate then announced that they will confirm Garland if democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the election, out of fear that she would appoint someone even more left-leaning than Garland. However, Trump then won the election, and Merrick Garland’s nomination expired on Jan. 3, 2017, after being in political limbo for almost 300 days. Many people in today’s political climate still feel and believe like this nomination was “stolen” from both President Obama, and Merrick Garland.
Many people see this controversy as an unprecedented act of obstruction by the Republican Party, with many citing that congress members chose their party over the good of the country. However, despite the controversy, Trump’s nomination is still valid, and will go in front of congress to be confirmed. Rather current democratic members of the senate will protest and obstruct this confirmation is yet to be seen or announced.
In conclusion, Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch may not be one of the flashiest or controversial headlines of the days since his inauguration, but it is potentially the one that will have the most effect on the coming years. Due to Trump’s nomination, Trump’s impact on the political climate will be felt for the thirty years that Gorsuch may be on the court, and beyond.
How do Supreme Court Justice Nominations Work?
Although Trump nominated Gorsuch, that does not mean that he automatically is appointed as a Supreme Court justices.
After being nominated, Gorsuch has to be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is made up of 20 senators, currently with nine democrats and 11 Republicans, including Florida Senator Ted Cruz. After this committee intensely vets the nominees through background checks and questions, they vote on whether they send the nominee to the senate with a certain type of recommendation: a good one, bad one or none at all.
Now the senate, led by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, debate on the nomination. It takes 51 senator votes, a simple majority, for the nominee to be confirmed; however, this may be a long process, as with the case with Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland’s nomination expired after nearly ten months without a confirmation hearing. In fact, senators can stall the debate and the vote and can do this by initiating a filibuster, which is an effort by senator to stall a vote by refusing to yield the floor and thus extending the debate. In this case, it takes supermajority, 60 votes, to end the debate or filibuster. Then, it still takes simple majority for the nomination to be confirmed. Therefore, although Trump nominated Gorsuch, Gorsuch still needs to be elected by the senate to become a Supreme Court justice.