Trump picks conservative judge Gorsuch to shift Supreme Court balance
President Donald Trump nominated federal appellate judge Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court Tuesday, as the new Republican leader seeks to tilt the balance of the court back in the conservatives' favor.
In a prime-time address that was part jurisprudence and part reality TV, Trump tapped the 49-year-old Gorsuch from Denver, Colorado to fill the bench slot made vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia nearly a year ago.
Like Scalia, Gorsuch is considered to be an "originalist" -- guided in his legal reasoning by what he believes to be the constitution's original intent and meaning.
The elegant, silver-haired 49-year-old with a flair for writing incisive rulings is the youngest nominee in a generation.
If confirmed by the Senate, his appointment could have a major impact on cases ranging from education to gender rights to gun control.
For Trump, the selection is payback to evangelical and conservative Republicans who backed his bit, sometimes reluctantly, for the presidency.
"Millions of voters said this was the single most important issue to them when they voted for me for president," Trump said.
"I am a man of my word. I will do as I say -- something that the American people have been asking for from Washington for a very, very long time."
He hailed Gorsuch as a man who has "outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline, and has earned bipartisan support."
After hyping the announcement in way that commentators described as "unprecedented," Trump invited Gorsuch and his wife to come up to the podium in the East Room of the White House.
"Here they come. Here they come. So was that a surprise? Was it?" said Trump, ever the showman.
- Job for life -
The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of many of the most sensitive issues of American life and law.
Its members are named to life terms so their influence is long-lasting.
Gorsuch painted himself as someone who is fair-minded and self-deprecating.
"A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge, stretching for results he prefers rather than those the law demands," he joked.
Given the advanced age of several sitting justices, Trump could potentially make several appointments during his term, shaping the court's direction for a generation.
Once confirmed, however, justices enjoy independence and some have proved politically unpredictable.
Scalia's Supreme Court seat has been vacant since his death on February 13, 2016.
For the better part of a year, Congressional Republicans refused to give then president Barack Obama's pick a confirmation hearing.
- 'Very serious doubts' -
Democrats, who are in a minority in both chambers of Congress, are still smarting from Republican treatment of Obama's pick, Merrick Garland.
Garland has since returned to his old job as chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington, but Democrats could yet pick a fight.
And although Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate, they need 60 to confirm a nominee.
That means Gorsuch must be someone capable of winning some Democratic votes -- a tough task amid the row over Trump's ban on travelers from several Muslim countries.
"A little more than a week into the Trump presidency, the new administration has violated our core values, challenged the separation of powers, and tested the very fabric of our Constitution in unprecedented fashion," said Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.
Schumer said it was up to Gorsuch to "prove himself to be within the legal mainstream" and "vigorously defend the Constitution from abuses of the Executive branch."
But he added: "Given his record, I have very serious doubts about Judge Gorsuch’s ability to meet this standard."
Unsurprisingly given Washington's hyper-partisan nature, Republicans welcomed the decision.
"He has an impressive background and a long record of faithfully applying the law and the Constitution," said Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
“When the Senate previously confirmed him to the appellate court, the bipartisan support in the Senate was so overwhelming, a roll call vote was not even required," he added.