Many conservatives had serious reservations about the brash, loose-talking realtor from New York who had grabbed their party’s nomination, but had held their nose and voted for him to prevent the Supreme Court from going liberal for a long time.
President Donald Trump checked that very important box on Tuesday by appointing Neil Gorsuch, a well-regarded conservative judge, to the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy left behind by the death of the bench’s leading conservative Antonin Scalia.
“I am proud to announce the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for Justice of the Supreme Court,” Trump said in a prime-time announcement, claiming credit for conducting the “most transparent … selection process in the history of our country”.
The announcement was welcomed by all conservatives, including several “Never Trumpers” — they are still around — and those who had nervously watched Trump stumble from one crisis to another in the short time since assuming office.
Democrats, predictably, were not impressed and vowed to oppose his confirmation. They can’t prevent it, but could draw it out, as some have indicated, as payback for Republicans blocking president Barack Obama’s nominee for the same slot.
Gorsuch, a 49-year-old appeals court judge from Colorado, beat 20 competitors — including Indian-descent Amul Thapar — whom Trump had started out with in May 2016 when he was still a nominee for the Republican ticket for the White House.
If confirmed, Gorsuch will fill a vacancy on the nine-member bench caused by the death in May 2016 of Scalia, a conservative giant known for his “originalist” approach to jurisprudence: implement law as conceptualized by framers.
Gorsuch is a judge in the same mold — as acknowledged in headlines in all major news publications. And like the man he succeeds, he is a talented writer of opinions and dissent and has a sense of humour, if a little less acerbic perhaps.
The nominee is known to be a believer in reduced role for courts in policy making and is pro-life (anti-abortion). He has not ruled directly on guns — but the powerful National Rifle Association has welcomed his appointment; and is believed to be opposed to same sex marriage.
Gorsuch will bring balance back to the bench, which, with the passing of Scalia had tended to tilt left under the weight of the four unambiguously liberal justices: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer.
Chief justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, the only African American on the bench, are the three conservatives. Anthony Kennedy, the eighth justice, has been a swing vote, making the difference in several 5-4 rulings.
Conservatives had feared that Democratic Hillary Clinton would alter the balance of the court had she won, and for a long time, given that these are not tenured positions; justices decide when they retire, and can go on to serve for decades.
Trump had played on those fears, telling supporters, falsely in this instance, that if elected Clinton would take away gun rights with her appointments to the Supreme Court. He had gone on to suggest only violence of some sorts could stop her.
Clinton favoured gun law reforms, as most liberals and a lot of conservatives, but had never planned to go that far. But Trump, long estranged from facts, fanned those fears to rally that part of the party’s base that had been leery of his conservatism. “It’s only about the Supreme Court,” a white, middle-aged supporter told this reporter at a Trump rally in Roanoke, Virginia last September, the day before the first presidential debate.