Trump picks Neil Gorsuch as nominee for Supreme Court


Trump picks Neil Gorsuch as nominee for Supreme Court

Media captionPresident Donald Trump: "Was that a surprise? Was it?"

President Donald Trump has nominated Colorado federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch for the US Supreme Court.

If confirmed, the 49-year-old would replace the vacancy left on the court by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

The nomination will have to be confirmed by the Senate, where Democrats have threatened to block any candidate seen as too conservative.

The court has the last legal word on many of the most sensitive US issues, from abortion to gender to gun control.

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Mr Trump said Judge Gorsuch had a" superb intellect, an unparalleled legal education, and a commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to text".

Media captionJudge Gorsuch spoke of his "most solemn assignment"

"Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline, and has earned bipartisan support," Mr Trump added.

The announcement was made in the East Room of the White House in a primetime address on Tuesday evening.

In accepting the nomination, Judge Gorsuch called the late Justice Scalia, who died a year ago, a "lion of the law".

"Impartiality and independence, collegiality and courage" is what is expected of judges, he said.

"I am honoured and I am humbled," Judge Gorsuch added.

He was picked out of a shortlist of 21 possible choices that Mr Trump made public during the election campaign.

A conservative's dream – Anthony Zurcher, BBC News North America Reporter

Donald Trump's choice of Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee is a fairly traditional pick in a decidedly untraditional time.

Judge Gorsuch has a CV and background that would make him a natural selection for just about any Republican president.

He's the kind of Supreme Court nominee evangelical and traditional conservative voters dreamed of as a reward for sticking with Mr Trump through the general election despite campaign missteps, controversies and occasional political apostasies.

They knew they would get a court pick they wouldn't like if Hillary Clinton won. They hoped they would get someone like Judge Gorsuch if Mr Trump prevailed.

Meanwhile, Democrats are left fuming over Senate Republicans' precedent-breaking decision to stymie Barack Obama's attempts to fill this court vacancy for nearly 10 months.

They have to decide if they will try to derail Mr Gorsuch's nomination as retribution – perhaps forcing Republicans to break with another Senate tradition, the ability of a minority to a block a Supreme Court nominee with only 41 votes through a filibuster.

The party's base, feeling a liberal majority on the court was stolen from them, will demand lockstep resistance, likely setting up a divisive confirmation fight ahead.

Media captionThe Supreme Court has been without a full bench for almost a full year.

The Ivy-League educated jurist has the potential to restore the 5-4 conservative majority on the nine-seat high court.

The youngest Supreme Court pick in a quarter of a century, he is not expected to call into question high-profile rulings on abortion and gay marriage.

However, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer suggested Judge Gorsuch may be outside the legal mainstream.

"Give his record, I have very serious doubts about Judge Gorsuch's ability to meet this standard," Senator Schumer added.

But Vice-President Mike Pence tweeted the nominee was "one of the most mainstream, respected, and exceptionally qualified Supreme Court nominees in American history".

Can Democrats block the nomination?

Judge Gorsuch's nomination is expected to spark a political showdown in the Senate.

Former President Barack Obama had put forward Judge Merrick Garland after Justice Scalia's death last February.

But Republicans refused to debate the choice, saying it was too close to an election, which left Democrats embittered.

Even if Judge Gorsuch makes it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will still face challenges when the entire chamber convenes for a final vote.

Democrats may seek to prevent that second vote, by filibustering in order to deny Mr Trump the 60-vote threshold needed to bring the nomination to the floor.

With Republicans only holding 52 Senate seats, they may have to change Senate rules in order to approve Mr Trump's nominee.

Why is the choice so important?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Justice Scalia (front row, second from left) was one of five justices that made up the conservative majority on the court

The highest court in the US is often the ultimate arbiter on highly contentious laws, disputes between states and the federal government, and final appeals to stay executions.

It hears fewer than 100 cases a year and the key announcements are made in June.

Each of the nine justices serves a lifetime appointment after being nominated by the president and approved by the Senate.

The court already has cases this term on the rights of transgender students, gerrymandered voting districts and on the Texas death penalty determination.

It is also likely the court will hear cases on voter rights, abortion, racial bias in policing and US immigration policy, and possibly on Mr Trump's controversial executive order banning refugees.