Trump nominates Neil Gorsuch to Supreme Court, eliciting mixed Jewish reactions

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump nominated to the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch, a federal judge known to favor protections of religious belief in the public square and for business owners.

The nomination, likely to trigger a vigorous confirmation battle, is already splitting the organized Jewish community, with the Reform movement expressing concerns and an Orthodox Union official describing his record as “encouraging.”

Trump introduced Gorsuch on Tuesday evening at a White House event.

“Judge Gorsuch has a superb intellect, an unparalleled legal education, and a commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its text,” Trump said.

Gorsuch, 49, is on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver covering six Western states. He would replace one of the high court’s most stalwart conservatives, Antonin Scalia, who died last year.

Among his opinions most attracting Jewish interest was Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby in 2013, when the appeals court upheld the right of a private business to reject the government mandate to provide contraceptive care under employee health plans. The Obama administration had offered leeway on such coverage to faith-based nonprofits but would not extend them to private businesses.

Gorsuch joined the majority in the appeals court ruling, which was upheld the next year by the U.S. Supreme Court. Liberal Jewish groups backed the government in the case. Orthodox Jewish groups favored Hobby Lobby, arguing for expansive allowances for consideration of religious beliefs by business owners.

Gorsuch has also favored displays of crosses on public lands, and has tended in his rulings toward the rights of gun owners, in favor of the death penalty and against abortion rights.

“We are greatly troubled by Judge Gorsuch’s record, which suggests that he may not have the attributes and values a nominee to the Supreme Court ought to have in order to mete out justice and interpret the laws that affect us all,” said a statement issued on behalf of a number of the Reform movement’s umbrella bodies. “We look forward to engaging in the confirmation process to further evaluate Judge Gorsuch’s views on issues of core importance to the Reform Movement, including civil rights, separation of church and state, religious freedom, women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, and many more.”

Bend the Arc, a liberal social action group, also said it was “deeply concerned” by Gorsuch’s record.

Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director of public policy, meantime, said Gorsuch’s rulings “show a jurisprudential approach that venerates religious conscience and pluralism in American society.”

The nomination is likely to face a fight, with Democrats suggesting they may filibuster. Democrats are still stung by the refusal of Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to allow a hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, Merrick Garland, a moderate judge.

“For nearly a year, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans shamefully failed to respect that President Obama was the duly elected president and had the authority and responsibility to put forward a nominee for the United States Supreme Court – and the Senate had the obligation to provide advice and consent for that nominee, Merrick Garland,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said in a statement. “This reckless course of action by the Republican leadership has inflicted lasting damage on the Supreme Court and the independence of the federal judiciary while diminishing the powers and duties of the Senate.”

Garland, had he been confirmed, would have brought to four the number of Jewish justices on the court.

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