WASHINGTON: Neil Gorsuch was sworn in Monday as the US Supreme Court’s ninth justice, retilting the bench to the right as he filled the seat left vacant by last year’s death of conservative icon Antonin Scalia.
Gorsuch took his oath from his mentor Justice Anthony Kennedy in a White House Rose Garden ceremony as a beaming President Donald Trump looked on, his political fortunes brightened by a choice that will help shape the top US court for a generation.
“I am humbled by the trust placed in me today. I will never forget that to whom much is given, much will be expected,” Gorsuch said.
“And I promise you that I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great nation.”
With that, he joined for life the panel of justices that is the ultimate arbiter of many of the most contentious issues in American life.
It came only after a bitter month-long fight in Congress that culminated last week with Republican leader Mitch McConnell sweeping aside long-standing Senate rules to win Gorsuch’s confirmation by a 54-45 vote.
First 100 days
Trump, who pointedly thanked McConnell, hailed the appointment as “a truly momentous occasion in our democracy.”
“A new optimism is sweeping across our land and a new faith in America is filling our hearts and lifting our sights,” he said.
In Gorsuch, Trump picked a respected federal appeals court judge who is seen as a fervent disciple of both Scalia and a brand of conservative jurisprudence that calls for the strict interpretation of the US Constitution as its writers intended.
No one seemed more pleased with the outcome than Trump, whose presidency has gotten off to a rocky start.
“And I got it done in the first 100 days. That’s even nice. You think that’s easy?” he boasted to the White House crowd, which included family members, Republican lawmakers and the high court’s other justices.
Gorsuch had already taken an oath from Chief Justice John Roberts earlier in the day at the Supreme Court.
Trump called Gorsuch a “man of great and unquestioned integrity,” and said Americans were “blessed” to have him join the high court.
“They see a man of unmatched qualifications. And, most of all, and most importantly, they see a man who is deeply faithful to the Constitution of the United States,” the president said.
“He will decide cases based not on his personal preferences, but based on a fair and objective reading of the law.”
Democrats angrily fought the nomination to the end because McConnell had blocked former president Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat, Merrick Garland, after Scalia’s sudden death in February 2016.
Since then, the court has been evenly divided between liberal and conservative wings, though Kennedy, a conservative, is looked to as a sometime swing voter.
A silver-haired, square-jawed jurist with a folksy manner, the 49-year-old Gorsuch was a federal appeals court judge in Colorado when Trump picked him for the top court.
He began his legal career as a clerk to the late Byron White, a Democrat from Colorado who was appointed to the Supreme Court by John F. Kennedy, and Anthony Kennedy.
Trump noted that Gorsuch’s elevation marked the first time in US history that a sitting justice and his former clerk were serving on the bench at the same time.
Gorsuch’s credentials include degrees from Columbia, Harvard Law and Oxford.
As a Justice Department lawyer from 2005-2006, Gorsuch led all government litigation arising from the US war on terror, including its defense of the extraordinary rendition of Khaled el-Masri, a German-Lebanese citizen who was handed over to the CIA in Macedonia in 2003 and flown to Afghanistan.
El-Masri was eventually released after the CIA admitted it had made a mistake.
During his confirmation hearing, Gorsuch said his work for the Justice Department should be seen as representing the views of his client — the government — rather than his own.