President Donald Trump selected federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, tapping a conservative jurist who brings a polished resume to the job.
Gorsuch would fill the seat left open by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and legal analysts say his judicial philosophy is similar to the judge whose seat he could fill without the divisiveness of some of the other contenders.
"Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous disciple, and has earned bipartisan support," Trump said at a primetime announcement held in the White House.
It was the highest-profile decision in Trump's young presidency, and if Gorsuch is confirmed it will restore a 5-4 split between conservative-leaning and liberal-leaning justices on the bench. In the middle of the divide is Justice Anthony Kennedy, an 80-year-old who is the court's swing vote.
But Gorsuch's confirmation hearing could be a pitched political battle. Democrats are still seething over the GOP's refusal to confirm Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee for the seat, and some lawmakers are already threatening to block him.
Still, Democrats may find it harder to fight Gorsuch, who sports degrees from Columbia University, Harvard Law School - he was a classmate of Obama - and the University of Oxford. He clerked for two Supreme Court justices and worked for a Washington law firm before he joined George W. Bush's Justice Department in 2005. A year later, Bush appointed him to the appeals court.
"When we judges don our robes, it doesn't make us any smarter," Gorsuch said after Trump announced his nomination. "But it does serve as a reminder of what's expected of us: Impartiality and independence. Collegiality and courage."
The 49-year-old is the youngest nominee to the Supreme Court's bench in more than a quarter century, and he could serve on the bench for decades.
"Depending on their age, a justice can be active for 50 years," the president said. "And his or her decisions can last a century or more, and can often be permanent."
Gorsuch, who sits on the Denver-based appellate court, was picked from a small group of contenders that also included Thomas Hardiman, a judge with the Pittsburgh-based appellate circuit, and Bill Pryor, a judge with the federal appeals court in Atlanta.
The nominee earned immediate praise from Georgia Republicans. Sen. Johnny Isakson said Gorsuch will "rule based on the law and who will not legislate through activist judicial decisions," while Sen. David Perdue said he was an "unwavering" defender of the U.S. Constitution.
Democrats signaled they are ready for a fight. The Democratic Party of Georgia said Americans should be "frightened" of his potential to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion and coziness with big business.
"He has a well-documented history of favoring CEOs and corporations over the very people who drive our country’s economy," said party chair DuBose Porter. "Georgia Democrats are more determined than ever to protect the rights of workers and organized labor unions."