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U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch a Coloradan seen as an anti-abortion, strict constructionist

January 31, 2017 Updated: February 1, 2017 at 6:42 am
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President Donald Trump picked a U.S. Supreme Court nominee whose roots run deep in Colorado politics and Reagan conservatism.

Neil Gorsuch, who has served on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver since 2006, said Trump had entrusted him with a solemn assignment.

"Standing here in a house of history and acutely aware of my own imperfections, I pledge that if I'm confirmed I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great country," he said in the televised announcement from the White House.

Trump said Gorsuch fit the mold of the kind of justice he vowed to appoint while on the campaign trail, and he cited Gorsuch's Western heritage.

"Judge Gorsuch was born and raised in Colorado and was taught the value of independence, hard work and public service," Trump said.

Gorsuch is a constitutional originalist and is seen as pro-life, one of Trump's stated prerequisites during the campaign. Gorsuch sided with Christians in the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor case involving Obamacare requirements that challenged religious beliefs.

"Judge Gorsuch has a record of ruling in a way that does not reflect Colorado values on reproductive rights," NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado executive director Karen Middleton said in a statement. "This is a pro-choice state that supports the constitutional right to abortion enshrined in Roe and the right to privacy enshrined in Griswold - beliefs that are contradicted in Judge Gorsuch's ruling in Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters."

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican from Canon City, was pleased with the nomination.

"Coloradans of all parties and persuasions can be proud tonight to see Colorado-born U.S. Circuit Court Judge Neil Gorsuch nominated by the president of the United States to fill the current vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court," Grantham said in a satement.

An avid skier, Gorsuch grew up in Denver before moving to Washington, D.C., as a teenager, when his mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, a former state legislator, was appointed by Ronald Reagan to be the first female secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She was forced to resign in 1983 when she was cited for Contempt of Congress for refusing to release documents on Superfund waste disposal.

His mother was a Denver lawyer who in 1983 married Robert Burford, a former Colorado House speaker, as well as a rancher and mining engineer, from Grand Junction. Burford was Reagan's head of the Bureau of Land Management..

His mother was a staunch defender of states right, and Neil Gorsuch has distinguished himself as a constitutional originalist, like Scalia, who believes in a strict literal interpretation set forth by the founding fathers.

As a young lawyer, Neil Gorsuch was a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White of Colorado in 1993, White's last year on the high court. White was the last Coloradan to serve on the high court.

Gorsuch also was a clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy.

At 49, Gorsuch would be the youngest sitting Supreme Court justice.

Gorsuch also teaches courses in legal ethics and antitrust law at the University of Colorado.

Melissa Hart, a law professor at CU's Byron White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law, told the SCOTUS Blog Gorsuch was "instrumental" to the center - "connecting it with speakers, moderating panels and even giving up his weekends to judge high school students in moot court competitions."

Gorsuch received a doctorate degree from Oxford University, where he studied the legal and moral issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia. He holds that allowing a person to intentionally end their life is wrong.

He wrote a book called "The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia" and articles in scholarly journals on the subject.

Colorado voted to allow physician-assisted suicide 65 percent to 35 percent in November.

Gorsuch's nomination, however, faces an uphill battle, not because of his merits as a jurist but recent history. Senate Democrats have vowed a fight over the nomination they felt should have been President Obama's to make.

The seat has been open since Justice Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 13 last year. Senate Republicans refused to give a hearing to Obama's nominee, U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland, preserving the pick for Trump.

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