Last night, President Trump tapped federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court.
Gorsuch is a right-leaning judge who once clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy. Gorsuch, 49, is among youngest of recent Supreme Court nominees (Justice Clarence Thomas was 43 when nominated, and Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan were both 50.)
In 2013, he was part of the lower court that sided with Hobby Lobby. That’s the private company that successfully argued that Obamacare violated its religious beliefs by requiring it to cover birth control for its employees. Gorsuch is considered an “originalist” – meaning he believes the Constitution should be interpreted exactly how the Founding Fathers wrote it. If approved, he’d be filling the seat of another originalist, Justice Antonin Scalia, who died almost exactly a year ago.
Under the Constitution, the President nominates a Justice and the Senate has to approve. Last Congress, the Republican Party argued that they didn’t think President Obama should fill the seat in an election year. Obama went ahead and picked centrist federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland but since the GOP controlled Congress, it blocked Garland all year. Dems were less than pleased.
Supporters say this is exactly what they wanted: a right-leaning justice who’ll keep the Supremes to the right. Critics remember Trump’s campaign promise to appoint someone who’d overturn Roe v Wade – and worry Gorsuch could help make that happen.
What’s next? Gorsuch now has a job interview with the Senate. And since the Dems aren’t super thrilled to be interviewing Gorsuch, they’ll be giving him extra scrutiny. They may even choose to filibuster (read: block) his confirmation. If that happens, the GOP could ‘go nuclear’ – aka change the rules so they wouldn’t need the Dems to approve Trump’s pick at all.
Freedom of Religion: In Hobby Lobby Stores vs. Sebelius, Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion siding with the craft store and its owners arguing the courts should accept one’s interpretation of their faith’s requirements and that they were likely to succeed in claiming the ACA contraception mandate infringed on their freedom of religion.
Regulations: Gorsuch has also questioned the constitutionality of the current volume of federal regulations Caring Hearts Personal Home Services vs Burwell.
Guns: While not a Second Amendment question, Gorsuch has indicated disagreement with some convictions for a felon’s knowing possession of a firearm, suggesting that prosecutors must prove that the defendant both knew he or she was a felon and knew that he or she was in possession of the firearm (rather than just knowingly possessing a firearm being sufficient for conviction). In one such case, Gorsuch did note that “gun possession is often lawful and sometimes even protected as a matter of constitutional right,” but it was still settled on statutory rather than Second Amendment grounds. These cases are less an indication of Gorsuch’s views on gun rights, and rather evidence that — like Scalia — Gorsuch is an advocate for the rule of lenity. Conservative outlet American Thinker criticized Gorsuch for joining the majority opinion in U.S. v. Rodriguez, where the court cited Terry v. Ohio to uphold the legality of the search of a man who was found to be in possession of an illegal handgun. American Thinker wrote the case “causes us to have some concern about his understanding of the relationship between the government and an armed citizenry,” while acknowledging that the ruling was on Fourth Amendment grounds, not Second Amendment grounds.