How Neil Gorsuch Could End Up as Donald Trump's Supreme Court Nominee

CNN/ Newswire | 1/25/2017, 6:18 a.m.
In only a few weeks, Judge Neil Gorsuch has gone from the federal appellate bench in Colorado, to one of ...
Judge Neil Gorsuch

By Ariane de Vogue

CNN Supreme Court Reporter

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In only a few weeks, Judge Neil Gorsuch has gone from the federal appellate bench in Colorado, to one of the leading contenders to be President Donald Trump's nominee for the US Supreme Court.

His quick ascent is due to a combination of factors, including his track record, demeanor and the impression he has made on Trump and the small circle advising him on how to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Another factor -- one beyond Gorsuch's control -- is likely also in play: the fiery atmosphere on Capitol Hill as Democrats vow to make the Supreme Court hearings one of the biggest fights in the early days of the Trump presidency.

These days Gorsuch's name -- previously unknown to many -- has been on the tip of the tongue of court watchers waiting anxiously to see who Trump eventually decides upon. Sources say that Gorsuch is one of the leading contenders of a very short list that also includes Judges William Pryor and Thomas Hardiman.

The pick could be announced as early as next week. Trump met Tuesday to discuss the upcoming nomination with Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein.

Gorsuch, 49, has been on the radar of some judicial conservatives for some time. He has long been a favorite of legal thinkers at the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

Conservatives welcome his opinions on religious liberty. For instance, he has sided with closely held corporations who argued that the so called contraceptive mandate violated their religious beliefs.

In another opinion, he challenged the notion that courts should defer to administrative agencies when they interpret the law. It may seem like a dry legal issue but it is central to many conservatives, including Justice Clarence Thomas.

"Judge Gorsuch has been a stern critic of a fixture of the Supreme Court's administrative law jurisprudence -- the idea that, where a federal agency is enforcing an ambiguous statute, courts should defer to how the agency understands the statute even if the courts read it differently," said Stephen I. Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court contributor and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law.

"If he were to form part of a majority to scale back that principle, it would be a major sea change in the relationship between the executive branch and the courts, and one that would likely impose significant new constraints on the scope of federal regulatory authority on all topics -- from immigration and criminal law enforcement to environmental protection, consumer product safety, and drug regulation," Vladeck said.

"His position on this is more extreme than Justice Scalia," said Dan Goldberg of the progressive Alliance for Justice, "it would be hard to overstate the damage it would cause this nation and the American people."

Goldberg calls Gorsuch an "extreme" candidate for his other opinions as well touching on issues such as a women's rights to access of reproductive health care and the rights of workers and consumers.