With a divisive confirmation process behind him, Judge Neil Gorsuch is about to take his place as the newest Supreme Court justice.
The 49-year-old appeals court judge from Colorado, the youngest nominee since Clarence Thomas, who was 43 when confirmed in 1991, was sworn in yesterday after a bruising fight that saw Republicans change the rules for approving Supreme Court picks — over the fierce obstructionism Democrats.
He replaces the "late, great Justice Antonin Scalia" as President Donald Trump reffered to him, part of the court's conservative wing for nearly three decades before he died unexpectedly in February 2016. In nominating Gorsuch, President Donald Trump said he fulfilled a campaign pledge to pick someone in the mold of Scalia in order to maintain an ideological balance in the Supreme Court, numbering 9 Justices.
During 11 years on the federal appeals court in Denver, Gorsuch mirrored Scalia's originalist approach to the law, interpreting the Constitution according to the meaning understood by those who drafted it. Like Scalia, he is a gifted writer with a flair for turning legal jargon into plain language people can understand.
Gorsuch, a Harvard graduate, will be seated just in time to hear one of the biggest cases of the term: a religious rights dispute over a Missouri law that bars churches from receiving public funds for general aid programs.
His 66-day confirmation process was swift, but bitterly divisive. It saw Senate Republicans trigger the "nuclear option" to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster threshold for all future high court nominees. The change allowed the Senate to hold a final vote with a simple majority.
Most Democrats refused to support Gorsuch because they were still seething over the Republican blockade last year of President Barack Obama's pick for the same seat, Merrick Garland. Senate Republicans refused to even hold a hearing for Garland, saying a high court replacement should be up to the next president because Obama was nearing the end of his term.
The White House swearing-in ceremony is a departure from recent history. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were both sworn in publicly at the Supreme Court. Former Justice John Paul Stevens has argued that holding the public ceremony at the court helps drive home the justice's independence from the White House.