Updated at 10:15 p.m. ET
President Trump has nominated conservative favorite Judge Neil Gorsuch to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
"Judge Gorsuch has a superb intellect, an unparalleled legal education, and a commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its text. He will make an incredible justice as soon as the Senate confirms him," Trump said in announcing his pick.
NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has more on Gorsuch, who currently sits on the federal appeals court in Denver:
"Gorsuch has a sterling legal pedigree. He clerked for two Supreme Court justices, Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He also served as a clerk on the second most important appeals court in the country, in Washington D.C., for conservative Judge David Sentelle.
"Like Justice Antonin Scalia, whom he is in line to replace, Gorsuch has cultivated a reputation as a memorable and clear author of legal opinions. He also considers himself to be an originalist. Lawyers who practice before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, where Gorsuch currently works, said he is a popular and approachable judge."
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Gorsuch has often drawn parallels to Scalia, with SCOTUSblog calling their similarities "eerie." In accepting Trump's nomination, Gorsuch praised the late justice as a "lion of the law" who was cherished by his colleagues for his "wisdom and his humor."
Like other justices on the court, Gorsuch has an Ivy League background. The Colorado native attended Columbia University, graduated from Harvard Law School and received his doctorate from Oxford University as a Marshall scholar. But he has blue-collar roots as well, including once working as a clerk at a Howard Johnson motel. He's an avid outdoorsman and lives on a ranch outside Boulder, Colo., with two horses and a cat.
Gorsuch was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006 to his current position, where he was confirmed by voice vote without objection. If confirmed for the high court, Gorsuch would be the first clerk in history to share the bench with the justice (Kennedy) he clerked for.
The choice of Gorsuch drew immediate praise from GOP lawmakers, many of whom were in attendance at the East Room announcement, and conservative groups alike.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Gorsuch as someone with "an impressive background and a long record of faithfully applying the law and the Constitution." House Speaker Paul Ryan called him a "phenomenal nominee" whose "belief in judicial restraint will serve the court — and the country — very well."
Gorsuch is, in fact, the second nominee to succeed Scalia. After the 79-year-old justice died suddenly last February, then-President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, to take his place. But Senate Republicans refused to take up Garland's nomination, arguing instead that the next president should be allowed to chose the next justice.
Now, Senate Democrats are weighing whether they should block Trump's nominee. Gorsuch has to get 60 votes to avoid a filibuster and move forward to a full Senate vote, so the White House needs eight Democrats to back him.
Sen. Jeff Merkley has already said he will filibuster the pick. In a statement after Gorsuch was announced, the Oregon Democrat called his nomination "a stolen seat" and maintained that the centrist Garland should not have been kept in limbo for months.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who previously served as ranking member, echoed those sentiments. The Vermont Democrat blasted Senate Republicans for how they had treated Garland, slamming Trump for "outsourc[ing] this process to far-right interest groups. This is no way to treat a co-equal branch of government, or to protect the independence of our Federal judiciary."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer underscored the precedent of the 60-vote threshold in his statement, saying that Gorsuch must "prove himself to be within the legal mainstream and, in this new era, willing to vigorously defend the Constitution from abuses of the Executive branch and protect the constitutionally enshrined rights of all Americans." However, the New York Democrat said that he had "very serious doubts about Judge Gorsuch's ability to meet this standard."
Channeling progressive frustration, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Gorsuch out of the mainstream and a hostile pick in a CNN town hall Tuesday evening. Pelosi said in a statement that Gorsuch was "hostile to women's rights" and called for "the toughest scrutiny" of him before any vote to put him on the court. But she stopped short of calling on Senate Democrats to filibuster Gorsuch's nomination.
Picking the next Supreme Court justice was a major factor for many of the president's voters this past November. According to exit polls, Trump won 56 percent of the vote from those who said the nomination to the high court was their most important factor when making their choice.
"I am a man of my word. I will do as I say," Trump said of his pick of Gorsuch, who was on a list of possible nominees he put out during the campaign.
Social conservatives, many of whom were initially skeptical of Trump's anti-abortion bona fides, were ecstatic over the choice of Gorsuch. Calling Gorsuch "a distinguished jurist with a strong record of protecting life and religious liberty," Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said Trump "has kept his promise to nominate only pro-life judges to the Supreme Court." Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said that "Judge Gorsuch's record over the last 14 years, especially on religious liberty, gives Americans every reason to believe he will make a fine Supreme Court justice."
In typical Trump fashion, the run-up to the announcement played out with the bravado and suspense of a reality TV show — somewhat fitting for the former host of the The Apprentice.
The White House chose a prime-time announcement instead of the usual nomination during the day. And there were reports throughout the day that the two finalists for the seat — Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman, another federal appeals court judge — might both be at the White House.
But in the end, it was only Gorsuch. However, Trump kept the suspense building as long as he could, walking out alone to make his announcement. Soon, he invited Gorsuch and his wife to the front.
"Was that a surprise — was it?" Trump said, smiling.
Domenico Montanaro and Scott Horsley contributed to this report.
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