Earlier this evening, President Donald Trump nominated Denver appeals judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat on the Supreme Court left open when Antonin Scalia died almost a year ago. Who is Gorsuch, and what does his appointment mean? Here's a look:
1. He's a conservative, but not extremely so.
In fact, according to an analysis by The New York Times, he's close in ideology and temperament to Scalia, returning the court to a familiar balance, with four reliably right-leaning judges, four reliably left-leaning ones, and Justice Anthony Kennedy usually the swing vote in the middle.
2. He's pro-business.
Depending on what you do, his apparent pro-business bent might be good news: Gorsuch has often ruled in favor of businesses over employees or customers. In one of his most famous decisions, he found for Hobby Lobby when it refused to provide insurance coverage for some contraceptives to employees on religious grounds. (The Supreme Court later gave a similar ruling.)
3. He's an "originalist."
Gorsuch is seen as an originalist--someone who believes the Constitution should be interpreted strictly as the Founding Fathers intended it. He has written that those on the left have depended too much on the courts to create reform when they should be working through Congress instead.
4. He's down to earth.
Gorsuch is known for writing in plain English (unlike most lawyers and judges), for his sense of humor, and his admirable skiing ability. If appointed, he will likely bring a welcome breath of informality to the high court. Some proponents point to the fact that he's from the West and say he would provide some needed geographical balance as well.
5. If he makes it to the Court, he'll be there a long time.
At 49, Gorsuch is the youngest person to be nominated to the court in decades. Both proponents and opponents are taking note of the fact that if appointed he'd likely be on the bench for many years to come, and thus will have very long term influence over the court and its decisions.
6. Nothing will happen very quickly.
Even in uncontroversial times, Supreme Court Justice confirmations typically take many months--almost three months in the case of Elena Kagan. Thus, the chances of Gorsuch joining the court in time to participate in the current term which ends in April. He likely would not take his seat before the fall term begins in October.
7. Democrats may fight him hard.
Many in the Democratic Party are still enraged that Republicans in the Senate blocked confirmation of Merrick Garland, whom President Obama nominated to fill Scalia's seat. Even before Gorsuch was named, many Democrats vowed to block any appointment other than Garland. It would only take 51 Senate votes to confirm Gorsuch in the normal way, which the Republicans certainly have. But if the Democrats choose to filibuster, that would take 60 votes to overcome.
On the other hand, Trump has urged Republican leaders in the Senate to change the rules to make a filibuster impossible--and they could do that with 51 votes. Do they have those votes? It's unclear, because at least one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, would likely be against it.
8. The nomination may have been aimed at an audience of one.
That one would be Justice Kennedy, the swing vote, who at 80 has talked about retiring. Kennedy has worked with Gorsuch in the past and likely admires him. Trump--who, like any president, would love the chance to pick more than one Supreme Court justice--may be implicitly telling Kennedy that it's OK to retire because he will be replaced with someone he approves of.
Of course, there's no guarantee that if Kennedy does retire, Trump's next pick would be anything like Gorsuch, and Kennedy may be justifiably skeptical. Will Gorsuch get confirmed? My guess is yes--eventually. Will Kennedy retire? That's a lot harder to predict.