When President Trump picked a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia he promised conservatives someone in the same mold — a New Scalia, as legal observers put it.
Two years into his term, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch has exceeded those conservatives’ expectations, carving out a role as a superb writer and careful advocate for the originalist approach to the Constitution that Scalia helped pioneer.
“Being a true originalist, he’s probably a little more Scalia than Scalia,” said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice. “He’s more than lived up to Trump’s promise.”
The comparisons go beyond the legal realm, too. Justice Gorsuch has even built an unlikely friendship with one of the court’s liberal members, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, just as Scalia did with arch-liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a frequent coupling at operas.
“It could be the next Scalia-Ginsburg friendship,” said Mike Davis, a former clerk to Justice Gorsuch. “I don’t think Gorsuch will want to go to the opera though.”
Justice Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate on April 7, 2017, to a seat that had been vacant for more than a year after Scalia’s death in February 2016. Republicans who controlled the Senate rebuffed then-President Obama’s pick, saying the winner of the 2016 election should make it.
The GOP’s success in holding the Senate and capturing the White House put the decision in the hands of Mr. Trump, who had campaigned on a promise to pick from a list of known conservatives — and settled on Justice Gorsuch, at the time a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Justice Gorsuch quickly distinguished himself, writing what The New York Times dubbed “remarkably self-assured” opinions.
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Liberals had feared Justice Gorsuch would be a rubber stamp for Mr. Trump’s agenda, and they have had no shortage of complaints about his rulings since.
A decision last week arguing that a death row inmate with a rare medical condition couldn’t dictate the terms of his execution to the state enraged the left.
ThinkProgress called it “bloodthirsty and cruel,” while The Nation said the justice “just made death worse.”
But Justice Gorsuch said quibbles over execution drugs had become a backdoor attempt by lawyers and death row inmates to try to curtail the death penalty, and he said that decision should be left squarely out of the hands of crusading judges.
“Of course, that doesn’t mean the American people must continue to use the death penalty,” he wrote. “The same Constitution that permits states to authorize capital punishment also allows them to outlaw it. But it does mean that the judiciary bears no license to end a debate reserved for the people and their representatives.”