Federal appeals court Judge Neal Gorsuch, 49, has been selected by President Donald Trump to fill the U.S. Supreme Court associate justice position that has been empty since Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February 2016.
While conservative in his judicial outlook, Gorsuch is seen by Indian law experts as more informed on tribal law than were many of Trump’s other potential nominees, as well as Scalia himself—who tended to be a foe to tribes on several issues.
Gorsuch has worked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit since 2006 after being appointed there by President George W. Bush. The Tenth Circuit includes Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, portions of Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. Before that, he served as principal deputy to the associate attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice from 2005 – 06. He is a graduate of Columbia, Harvard and Oxford, and he has previously clerked for two Supreme Court justices, including current Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Gorsuch is known to be pro-gun rights, pro-religious freedom, pro-states’ rights, pro-police, and pro-death penalty in many of his decisions. He has also been pro-tribe in at least one recent Indian law case he has presided over. In a 2015 ruling, he strongly rebuked Utah state and county officials for long challenging the Ute Tribe’s sovereignty, although he denied the tribe’s request for sanctions against state officials.
“Indeed, the harm to tribal sovereignty in this case is perhaps as serious as any to come our way in a long time,” Gorsuch wrote, referring to the prosecution of Lesa Jenkins, an Ute citizen, who the tribe claimed was racially profiled. He ultimately ruled that state court prosecutions of tribal citizens for offenses committed on tribal lands “strongly suggest[ed]” county officials in eastern Utah were involved in “a renewed campaign to undo the tribal boundaries [already] settled” by higher courts.
Gorsuch also wrote a 2013 decision that renewed a historical accounting lawsuit aimed at benefitting Osage Nation citizens.
Whether the full U.S. Senate will choose to confirm Gorsuch to the Supreme Court seat is unknown. Sixty votes are necessary for confirmation, and Democrats are vowing to closely scrutinize his record.
Republicans successfully withheld a vote on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court after Scalia’s passing, so Democrats are expected to dig in their heels.