Washington, D.C.

Gorsuch sworn in as Supreme Court justice

Confirmation process marred by extraordinary degree of partisanship
President Donald Trump watches as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy administers the oath of office to Judge Neil Gorsuch.
President Donald Trump watches as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy administers the oath of office to Judge Neil Gorsuch.

WASHINGTON — Neil M. Gorsuch was sworn in Monday as the 113th justice of the Supreme Court, placing a devoted conservative in the seat once occupied by Justice Antonin Scalia and handing President Donald Trump a victory in his push to shape the court for decades to come.

Gorsuch, 49, took his judicial oath in the White House Rose Garden with Trump looking on. It was the fulfillment of a vital campaign promise made by Trump — one that allayed the reservations of many Republican Party stalwarts, who were otherwise repelled by his candidacy — to make the appointment of a strict conservative to the Supreme Court a top priority.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, 80, often a swing vote on the court, presided, a reminder that Gorsuch’s ascendance may not be this president’s final chance to influence the direction of the high court.

“Justice Gorsuch, you are now entrusted with the sacred duty of defending our Constitution,” Trump said. “Our country is counting on you to be wise, impartial and fair, to serve under our laws not over them, and to safeguard the right of the people to govern their own affairs.”

Kennedy’s presence was symbolic personally for Gorsuch, who served as a clerk for Kennedy and considers him a mentor. It is the first time in the history of the Supreme Court that a sitting justice will serve with a justice who had been his clerk.

About two hours before the Rose Garden ceremony, Chief Justice John Roberts administered a separate oath, the one given to all federal officials to support and defend the Constitution, to Gorsuch in a private session at the Supreme Court.

But the public event at the White House, which was attended by all eight other justices and several conservative activists, was an opportunity for Trump to wring maximum public credit from Gorsuch’s confirmation. He showcased a rare domestic victory after a chaotic first few months in office marred by legal troubles over his travel ban, the failure of his effort to repeal the health care law and intense feuding inside his senior team.

Trump called the occasion “momentous” and “historic,” noting that his power to appoint was among a president’s most important.

“And I got it done in the first 100 days,” Trump said. “You think that’s easy?”

The Rose Garden ceremony, on a sun-soaked spring day, recalled one just over a year ago in which President Barack Obama announced his selection of Judge Merrick B. Garland to succeed Scalia. Senate Republicans quickly declared, however, that they would not consider Garland’s nomination, saying the choice should belong to the next president.

Gorsuch’s confirmation process, too, was marred by an extraordinary degree of partisanship. After Democrats waged a filibuster against him, making it impossible to reach the 60 votes required to advance his nomination to a final vote, Republicans invoked the so-called nuclear option, lowering the threshold on Supreme Court nominations to a simple majority vote.

Gorsuch alluded to the intensity of the battle Monday, as he thanked the many White House and Justice Department officials who “worked through so many late nights and long weeks” to get him confirmed.

“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,” he said.

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