Democratic lawmakers and feminist leaders are in an uproar after President Donald Trump Tuesday put forth Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat formerly held by Antonin Scalia. After a year of consistent efforts by Senate Republicans to block then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, from filling the vacancy, Trump has made good on his promise to fill the stolen seat with a Supreme Court Justice who will follow in Scalia’s very extreme footsteps. In response, advocates and lawmakers are rising up to stop Gorsuch from assuming it.
Gorsuch, 49, has served on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado since 2006; previously, he practiced law mostly for corporate clients and served as principal deputy associate attorney general in George W. Bush’s Justice Department. His record shows him to be hostile to—among other things—women’s reproductive rights.
In a 1996 amicus brief, Gorsuch declared that public hospitals and individual health care providers should be free to deny women abortion care based on their personal beliefs. While serving on the 10th Circuit, he repeatedly ruled against the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit and in favor instead of so-called “religious liberty,” falsely framing coverage for critical reproductive health services as an infringement on the “conscience” of health care providers. Gorsuch ruled twice in favor of challenges to the ACA’s mandate, including the now-infamous challenge to the law brought by the craft store chain Hobby Lobby. He has multiple times relied on falsehoods spread by anti-abortion and anti-reproductive rights extremists, including writing in one decision that birth control drugs “destroy a fertilized human egg” and using debunked claims about illegal fetal tissue sales as the basis for attempting to rehear and likely reverse a decision to preserve Planned Parenthood funding in Utah.
Though Gorsuch has not ruled directly on abortion during his tenure on the bench, his nomination presumably marks the fulfillment of Donald Trump’s campaign promise to appoint a staunchly anti-abortion justice to the highest court. Gorsuch is a self-identified “originalist,” meaning he believes his role is to interpret the Constitution as the Founding Fathers would have over 200 years ago at the inception of the document, who supports “textualism”—the interpretation of statues literally and without historical context or a sense of their philosophical purpose. In these ways, his judicial methodology and philosophy align with that of Scalia, who used that perspective to claim that women and LGBT people weren’t protected by the Constitution.
Originalist and textualist interpretations of the Constitution would not have made room for some of the biggest Supreme Court victories we’ve seen in the last decades—including Roe and the ruling last year which granted LGB folks the right to marry nationwide. Gorsuch himself stated in a speech last April that judges should “apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward,” and urged them “not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best.”
“Throughout his career, Judge Gorsuch has been extremely critical of extending protections to women and children with disabilities, all while condemning efforts to exercise separations between the church and state,” Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority, said in a statement. “If Judge Gorsuch’s views should become the majority opinion of the Court, women’s and LGBT individuals’ rights would be in jeopardy. Even his influence in Supreme Court rulings could set back women’s rights and LGBT rights, and fundamentally threaten civil rights, racial justice, human rights and environmental protections. We must fight his confirmation with every fiber of our being.”
FM is encouraging Senators to fillibuster Gorsuch’s confirmation. They are one of many groups across the nation working to advance women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights and environmental justice who stand in opposition to Gorsuch’s appointment. “Neil Gorsuch is women’s worst nightmare, and his confirmation could set women back 50 years,” FM Executive Director Kathy Spillar said in a press conference today. “This is a disaster for women, and it’s dangerous.” Many Democratic lawmakers have already committed to voting against Gorsuch.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who led an unprecedented year-long act of obstruction to stop Garland’s confirmation in direct violation of procedure, said Tuesday Gorsuch should not need to meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster in order to be confirmed—a requirement he and the GOP demanded of Obama’s pick. President Trump has encouraged McConnell to “go nuclear,” a reference to the so-called “nuclear option” of breaking with Senate tradition to confirm Gorsuch by simple majority.
If confirmed, Gorsuch will undoubtedly have the opportunity to rule on cases dealing with abortion, birth control, health care reform, environmental issues, immigration and labor rights while on the bench. He is also expected to serve out a lengthy tenure, tipping the scales once again toward right-wing dominance of the nation’s highest court for an estimated three to four decades.