A New Justice

Neil Gorsuch joins the U.S. Supreme Court

April 10, 2017

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. administers the constitutional oath to Justice Neil Gorsuch in a private ceremony on April 10.

Neil Gorsuch officially joined the other eight justices of the United States Supreme Court on Monday. In a morning ceremony, he was sworn in as an associate justice. Gorsuch, 49, is a native of Colorado and formerly a federal appeals court judge in the state. He is the youngest justice to be confirmed to the Supreme Court since 1991.

In a private ceremony, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the swearing-in oath to Gorsuch, as directed by the U.S. Constitution. All eight Supreme Court justices were in attendance, as well as Maureen Scalia, the widow of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and their eldest son Eugene. Gorsuch replaces Justice Scalia, who died unexpectedly in February 2016.

A public swearing-in ceremony followed at the White House, with President Donald Trump, who nominated Gorsuch for position on January 31, in attendance. Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom Gorsuch once worked as a clerk, administered the oath at the second ceremony.

The addition of Gorsuch to the Court ends a divisive process in which Republicans in the U.S. Senate changed the rules to ensure his confirmation, as many Democrats fiercely opposed it.

New Justice, Familiar Approach

The Supreme Court is made up of a chief justice and eight associate justices. They are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Supreme Court justices serve for life.

As the nation’s top court, the Supreme Court decides if the country’s laws are valid under the U.S. Constitution, and explains how laws should be applied. It represents the judicial branch of the U.S. government, and acts as a check on the powers of Congress and the president. Supreme Court rulings on legal issues are final and cannot be appealed. (Click here to watch a video about the branches of government.)

Gorsuch is considered a conservative. During his 11 years on the federal appeals court in Denver, he closely mirrored Antonin Scalia’s originalist approach to law. As an originalist, Gorsuch aims to interpret the Constitution according to the intent of those who drafted it. Like Scalia, Gorsuch is a gifted writer who is known for translating legal writing into plain language that people can easily understand.

With Gorsuch’s confirmation, President Trump has fulfilled the promise he made during the presidential campaign to nominate someone in the mold of Scalia.

A Rocky Road to the Supreme Court

The confirmation process for Gorsuch saw a bitter division between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Most Democrats refused to support Gorsuch. They were still angry over the Republicans’ move last year to block Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick for the same position. Republican senators had refused to hold any hearings for Garland. They said that the replacement for Scalia should be chosen by the next president. At the time, Obama was in the last year of his second and final term in office.

On April 6, over fierce objection from Democrats, Senate Republicans triggered the “nuclear option.” The move eliminated the Senate’s 60-vote requirement to confirm Supreme Court justices. As a result, Gorsuch was confirmed with a simple majority vote. He received 54 “yes” votes, including three from Democratic senators, and 45 “no” votes. One Republican senator from Georgia did not participate.

In remarks delivered in the Rose Garden after being sworn in, Gorsuch promised to be a "faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great nation."

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