Neil Gorsuch, SCOTUS Pick: Who Is He & Where Does He Stand on the Issues?

President Trump has chosen Judge Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee. We look at his background and where he stands on today's hot button issues.
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Neil Gorsuch Photo

Federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, speaks after being nominated as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by U.S. President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on January 31, 2017.

With the Supreme Court vacancy approaching close to a year, President Donald Trump has chosen 49-year-old Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee. The Colorado-based judge, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Tenth Circuit in 2006, has the typical academic pedigree one would expect for a high court office seat. Gorsuch attended Harvard Law with President Obama and also graduated from Columbia and Oxford universities.

Favored by legal conservatives, Gorsuch is viewed as an ideal intellectual choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Like his predecessor, Gorsuch is a "texualist," interpreting Congressional law in plain, literal form in accordance with the Founding Fathers. Upon hearing of his nomination, the SCOTUSblog offered praise: "Gorsuch’s opinions are exceptionally clear and routinely entertaining; he is an unusual pleasure to read, and it is always plain exactly what he thinks and why. Like Scalia, Gorsuch also seems to have a set of judicial/ideological commitments apart from his personal policy preferences that drive his decision-making."

However, leading Democrats in the Senate like Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer, among others, strongly oppose his appointment. Schumer has publicly accused Gorsuch of “repeatedly siding with corporations over working people, demonstrating a hostility toward women's rights, and most troubling, is hewed to an ideological approach to jurisprudence that makes me sceptical that he can be a strong, independent justice on the court.”

If confirmed, Gorsuch, who is Episcopalian, would be the only Protestant on the court. (Currently, five SCOTUS members are Catholic, three Jewish.)

Here is where Gorsuch stands on the most politically divisive issues.

On immigration:

Although it's unclear from his judicial record where he stands on immigration, Gorsuch is known for favoring the interpretation of judges over federal agencies in cases that involve ambiguous congressional laws. In 2016 he ruled over a complicated immigration case, in which he focused more on the importance of separation of powers. Of the Founding Fathers' decision to distribute power among the branches, he wrote: "A government of diffused powers, they knew, is a government less capable of invading the liberties of the people." For opponents of President Trump's travel ban (which is widely being interpreted as a controversial and unconstitutional Muslim ban), Gorsuch's ruling could offer a potential sliver of hope.

On abortion:

Although Gorsuch has never publicly offered his opinion on Roe v. Wade (the court ruling that legalized abortion in 1973), he does seem to be a defender of religious freedom rights. One of his more recent high profile rulings, the Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius case, questioned whether religious non-profits could deny providing contraception coverage to its employees if they felt it violated their beliefs. He favored with the religious non-profits.

On assisted suicide:

Gorsuch is firmly against assisted suicide and euthanasia. In fact, he wrote a book on it in 2006 entitled The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. He writes: “All human beings are intrinsically valuable, and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

On the environment:

Despite being an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, Gorsuch opposes the broad powers of federal agencies to interpret the law. He also holds disdain for liberals using the courts to enforce policies they can't obtain through a vote. Nevertheless, he upheld Colorado's renewable energy standards when the coal industry challenged them.

On gun rights:

Gorsuch does not have a clear record, but based on a 2013 case, he sided with a lower court's ruling favoring the rights of a police officer, who tasered a 22-year-old student who died from the incident.

On marijuana:

Again, his stance is not definitive, but Gorsuch did rule on a case in 2015, which involved a Colorado dispensary that was forced to pay taxes on business expenses it had previously made deductions on. The dispensary claimed it did not have to disclose the nature of its business, due to self-incrimination.

Gorsuch ultimately denied the motion but did express sympathy for the defendants, essentially blaming the confusion on the contradictory stances President Obama's administration and the IRS had on whether or not to prosecute offenders.