President Trump nominated federal Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, choosing a jurist widely seen by conservatives as a fitting successor to the late Antonin Scalia – and touching off what is sure to be a fierce confirmation battle with Senate Democrats already vowing resistance.
Touting his nominee's credentials and legal mind, the president said he was living up to his own vow during the campaign to nominate someone who respects the law and "loves" the Constitution.
"Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline and has earned bipartisan support," Trump said, noting he was confirmed unanimously to his current judicial post.
He quipped: "Does that happen anymore?"
Gorsuch, 49, has served on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver for more than a decade.
Trump's move to elevate Gorsuch was hailed by a range of conservative groups and Republican lawmakers late Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the judge an "outstanding" pick who "understands the constitutional limits on the authority of a federal judge."
Trump’s choice, if confirmed to the high court, would take the seat that has remained vacant since Justice Scalia died nearly a year ago. The nominee was among Trump’s original list of 21 potential choices circulated during the presidential campaign.
But Democrats are still smarting over Republicans’ refusal to consider then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, and some have vowed to retaliate by opposing Trump’s pick. Late Tuesday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer raised the potential threat of a filibuster, saying the Senate "must insist" the nominee garner 60 votes.
If Schumer or any of his colleagues take the procedural step to require 60 votes, Trump would need to find at least eight Democrats to join Republicans in supporting his pick.
"The burden is on Judge Neil Gorsuch to 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," Schumer said in a statement. "Given his record, I have very serious doubts about Judge Gorsuch's ability to meet this standard."
Trump, though, said his nominee's qualifications "are beyond dispute."
He added, "I only hope that both Democrats and Republicans can come together for once, for the good of the country.”
Trump spoke for less than eight minutes before turning the podium over to Gorsuch, during the brief rollout in the East Room of the White House.
“You’ve entrusted me with a most solemn assignment,” Gorsuch said, vowing if confirmed to be a “faithful servant” of the Constitution and the law.
He also honored Scalia as a “lion of the law,” saying all his colleagues cherished the late justice’s “wisdom” and “humor.” He added, “Like them, I miss him.”
Gorsuch, showing flashes of humor himself, is in many ways similar to the man whose seat he hopes to fill.
Like Scalia, he is an originalist who believes judges should follow the text and original meaning of the Constitution. He also has a record of standing up for religious liberty, having written in favor of Hobby Lobby and The Little Sisters of the Poor when they challenged the ObamaCare contraception mandate.
He attended Columbia, Harvard and Oxford universities, an academic background lauded by Trump in Tuesday's announcement.
The president originally was planning to name his Supreme Court choice on Thursday, but he moved up the announcement amid a bipartisan backlash over Friday’s executive order on refugee and immigration policies.
He now turns Washington’s focus to the debate over his high court pick, one sure to draw advocacy groups on both sides into the fray. Conservative groups will fight hard for Gorsuch's confirmation, against expected Democratic and liberal opposition.
Schumer and his Democratic colleagues have been increasingly at odds with the Trump administration in the wake of the immigration executive order. If Democrats do follow through on a filibuster, it could spur conservative senators to try overhauling Senate rules to lower the threshold from 60 votes to 51 – the so-called “nuclear option.”
McConnell called earlier Tuesday for the nominee to be treated fairly.
"What I would expect from our Democratic friends is the nominee be handled similarly to President Clinton's two nominees in his first term and President Obama's two nominees in his first term,” McConnell said.
But Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley has signaled he's ready to fight, telling supporters the seat was stolen from Obama since his pick never got a vote, saying he won’t be “complicit in this theft.”
The vacancy on the Supreme Court was a major factor for many voters in the 2016 presidential election. According to the Fox News exit poll, more than one-in-five voters said nominations for the high court were the most important factor in casting their vote – and those voters went for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton 56-41 percent.
Fox News' Bill Mears, Shannon Bream and Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.