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Mar 22, 201703:21 PMOpen Mic

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Who is Neil Gorsuch?

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On Feb. 1, Donald Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. Article 2, Section 2 of the United States Constitution requires that all presidential appointments to the Supreme Court be on the advice and consent of the Senate. Earlier this week on March 20, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearings on Gorsuch’s nomination.

Senate Democrats have vowed to block Gorsuch’s nomination in retaliation for Senate Republicans’ refusal to even consider Merrick Garland, the nominee President Obama named last spring to fill this same vacancy. Senate Democrats may be justifiably angry over this refusal given that it is the longest Supreme Court vacancy since before the Civil War, but it is doubtful that they will be able to justify a lengthy delay in holding a vote on Gorsuch.

So, who is Neil Gorsuch? What does he value? What impact would he likely have on an already divided Supreme Court? What kind of replacement would he be for Scalia, who was one of the most outspoken justices in recent history?

Gorsuch has been a federal judge for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals since being nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006. Prior to that he was a lawyer in private practice. He also served as a clerk for two Supreme Court justices — current Justice Anthony Kennedy and former Justice Byron White. During his time on the bench, Gorsuch has participated in several notable judicial decisions on a variety of topics. Below is a sample of those decisions.

Campaign finance

There was much talk during the presidential campaign about money in politics and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which essentially allows unlimited money to be spent by individuals and corporations to advocate for their political positions and candidates so long as they do not directly coordinate with a particular candidate’s campaign. Gorsuch, as a Supreme Court justice, would likely uphold this decision as he has in the past, citing Buckley v. Valeo in support of his prior decisions on campaign finance. Buckley was the first Supreme Court decision that equated money to speech and, therefore, protected the spending of unlimited amounts of money on political advocacy under the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections.

Religious freedom

Gorsuch’s decisions use a broad definition of religious freedom. Prior to being reviewed by the Supreme Court, the Tenth Circuit heard arguments in Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius, which centered around the mandate in the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) that employer-based health insurance group plans must provide coverage for contraceptives, namely the birth control pill. Gorsuch agreed with the majority of the Tenth Circuit, and ultimately the Supreme Court, that the contraceptive mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by requiring a private business to do something against its religious beliefs. Gorsuch also joined in a dissent in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, which opined that a government’s display of a donated monument of the Ten Commandments did not obligate the government to display other offered monuments representing other religions. The Supreme Court held the same opinion as Gorsuch and reversed.


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