Trump names Supreme Court nominee: Who is he and what happens next?

President Trump has nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch, an experienced federal judge who graduated from Harvard University Law School and holds a doctorate in legal philosophy from Oxford University.

“Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline and has earned bipartisan support,” Trump said January 31 at a televised event at the White House.

A native of Colorado, Gorsuch currently sits on the appellate court covering Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Oklahoma.

“When we judges don our robes, it doesn’t make us any smarter, but it does serve as a reminder of what’s expected of us: impartiality and independence, collegiality and courage,” Gorsuch said.

The February 13, 2016, death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia created the vacancy on the highest U.S. court.

In the 1990s, Gorsuch clerked for then-Justice Byron White and for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who still sits on the Supreme Court.

If confirmed, Gorsuch will be the first former clerk to serve on the Supreme Court alongside a justice for whom he clerked.

Gorsuch and his wife, Louise, live in Colorado with their two daughters. Gorsuch is an outdoorsman who enjoys fly fishing, hiking and skiing. The family raises horses, chickens and goats on their small farm.

The confirmation process

Supreme Court nominees, like Cabinet appointments, must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Before that vote, nominees appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee and answer questions about their careers, legal philosophies and commitment to upholding the U.S. Constitution.

The full Senate then considers the Judiciary Committee report before voting on the nomination. A majority vote of the Senate is required to confirm the appointment. (However, Senate rules may require a supermajority to bring the nomination up for a vote.)

Neil and Louise Gorsuch (© AP Images)
Judge Neil Gorsuch with his wife, Louise, whom he met at Oxford University (© AP Images)

Why does the U.S. do it this way?

Supreme Court justices — like most other federal judges — are appointed and serve “during good Behaviour,” the Constitution says, which means for life unless removed by the Senate for illegal or improper conduct.

Supreme Court justices serve for life to help maintain their independence. Unlike the president and members of Congress (who are elected and answerable to the people they serve), justices answer to the Constitution and laws of the United States. Life tenure helps justices make decisions that are legally correct but politically unpopular.

The Constitution empowers the president, who is elected by the entire nation, to nominate justices, but requires Senate confirmation to uphold the checks and balances between the branches of government and to assure that the nominee has broad appeal.

This system ensures high-quality, independent justices.