SAU Buzz

A new Justice

by BethAnn Koustas
Posted on Feb 16, 2017

On Jan. 31, President Trump announced his pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died on Feb. 13, 2016. President Obama had nominated U.S. Appeals Judge Merrick Garland following Scalia’s death, but the Senate Republicans blocked hearings on his nomination.

Neil Gorsuch, a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge, was nominated by Trump. Gorsuch would replace Scalia, a conservative justice, keeping the Supreme Court slanted towards the conservative side. Republican Presidents appointed four of the current justices, while Democrats appointed the other four.

Why does the Supreme Court matter?

The Supreme Court can play a crucial role in the lives of everyday Americans. For example, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the court ruled that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriages. With that ruling, the Supreme Court changed the lives of millions of Americans.

The Supreme Court is the head of the Judicial Branch, one of the three branches that shape the United States government. They have the final say in all questions regarding the constitutionality of laws that have been challenged in court.

According to the National Constitution Center, there are many key Supreme Court cases coming up this year.

In Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., the court will take on the question of transgender rights for the first time. The case is an appeal by a Virginia county school board after a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a 17 year old transgender boy’s right to use a school bathroom that conforms to his gender identity.

In Los Angeles County v. Mendez, the court will decide if the legal immunity can be taken away from police officers for the use of “excessive force.”

Many of these cases are expected to be close decisions by the justices, making Trump’s nominee critical.

Who is Neil Gorsuch?

According to Politico, Gorsuch, 49, graduated from Columbia, Harvard and Oxford. He served as a clerk for two Supreme Court justices and worked briefly for the Department of Justice.  Gorsuch has been serving on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado since 2005.

His mother, Anne Burford Gorsuch, ran the Environmental Protection Agency during the Reagan administration and was forced to resign in 1983 after facing a criminal investigation over records related to a toxic-waste cleanup.

Court watchers look to Gorsuch’s ruling record to get an idea of what type of Supreme Court justice he may be.

Politico cites Gorsuch as a favorite of legal conservatives. In August, he argued that the meaning of law is for judges to decide, not federal politicians. In September, he joined a dissent arguing that religious non-profits should not be required to cover contraception under the Affordable Care Act. He is also against assisted-suicide laws, and wrote a book about it in 2006.

The future of Gorsuch’s nomination remains uncertain, as Senate democrats are vowing to refuse nomination hearings.