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US President Donald Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court, picking the 49-year-old to restore the court’s conservative majority and shape rulings on divisive issues such as abortion, gun control, the death penalty and religious rights.
The Colorado native faces a potentially contentious confirmation battle in the US Senate after Republicans last year refused to consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy caused by the February 2016 death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia.
The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, indicated his party would mount a procedural hurdle requiring 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate rather than a simple majority to approve Gorsuch, and expressed “very serious doubts” about the nominee.
Liberal groups called for an all-out fight to reject Gorsuch, a staunch conservative who is likely to vote “to limit gay rights, uphold restrictions on abortion and invalidate affirmative action programmes”, according to a study that analyses the ideologies of potential Supreme Court nominees.
Conservative groups and Republican senators heaped praise on him like “outstanding”, “impressive” and “home run”.
Gorsuch is the youngest nominee to the nation’s highest court in more than a quarter century, and he could influence the direction of the court for decades as its members are elected for life-long terms.
Announcing the selection to a night-time crowd in the White House East Room, flanked by the judge and his wife, Trump said Gorsuch’s resume is “as good as it gets”.
Trump, who took office on January 20, said he hopes Republicans and Democrats can come together on this nomination for the good of the country.
“Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline, and has earned bipartisan support,” Trump told an audience that included Scalia’s widow.
“Depending on their age, a justice can be active for 50 years. And his or her decisions can last a century or more, and can often be permanent,” Trump added.
Gorsuch is considered a conservative intellectual, known for backing religious rights, and is seen as very much in the mould of Scalia, a leading conservative voice on the court for decades.
“I respect … the fact that in our legal order it is for Congress and not the courts to write new laws,” Gorsuch said, as Trump looked on.
“It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people’s representatives. 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.”
|Profile: Who is Neil Gorsuch?|
A senior administration official told Reuters news agency that a screening committee helped in the selection process that included Vice President Mike Pence, White House counsel Don McGahn, chief of staff Reince Priebus and top strategist Steve Bannon.
Senate minority leader Chuck 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”.
“Given his record, I have very serious doubts about Judge Gorsuch’s ability to meet this standard,” he added.
Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic minority leader, called Gorsuch “hostile to women’s rights” and said the consequences of confirming him “could not be more serious or far-reaching”.
“Judge Gorsuch’s record reveals he holds radical views, far outside the mainstream of American legal thought,” she said.