WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Neil Gorsuch has taken his place as the 113th justice of the Supreme Court.
The 49-year-old appeals court judge from Colorado was sworn during a public ceremony at the White House by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who administered the oath set by federal law.
President Donald Trump was beaming during the ceremony at the White House Rose Garden, CBS2’s Brian Conybeare reported.
Speaking ahead of Gorsuch at the ceremony, Trump said that “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,” hinting at his own friction with the judiciary.
“We are gathered here today for a truly momentous occasion in our democracy,” Trump said.
In Gorsuch, Trump said Americans see “a man who is deeply faithful to the Constitution of the United States.”
“He will decide cases not on his personal preferences, but based on a fierce and objective reading of the law,” Trump said.
He also said he has “no doubt” that Gorsuch “will go down as one of the truly great justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
After being sworn in, Gorsuch thanked his family, former law clerks and friends and promised to be a “faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great nation.”
“I am humbled by the trust placed in me today,” he said Monday. “I will never forget that to whom much is given, much will be expected.”
An earlier private swearing-in ceremony was held in the Justices’ Conference Room, with Chief Justice John Roberts administering the oath required by the Constitution.
“To the Scalia family, I won’t ever forget that the seat I inherit today is that of a very, very great man,” Gorsuch said to the audience of family and administration staffers, as well as all the sitting Supreme Court justices.
Gorsuch, who once clerked for Kennedy, is the first member of the court to serve alongside his former boss. He replaces the late Justice Antonin Scalia, part of the court’s conservative wing for nearly three decades before he died unexpectedly in February 2016.
Gorsuch’s swearing-in comes after a bruising fight that saw Republicans change the rules for approving Supreme Court picks over the fierce objection of Democrats.
Longtime Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman tells CBS2’s Brian Conybeare that Gorsuch, while conservative, is not as hard line as Justice Scalia was.
“Judge Gorsuch is clearly, absolutely qualified for this position,” Gershman said.
His 66-day confirmation process was swift, but bitterly divisive. It saw Senate Republicans trigger the “nuclear option” to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster threshold for all future high court nominees. The change allowed the Senate to hold a final vote with a simple majority.
Gorsuch won support from 51 of the chambers’ Republicans as well as three moderate Democrats up for reelection in states Trump won last fall: Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has been recovering from back surgery, did not vote.
Most Democrats refused to support Gorsuch because they were still seething over the Republican blockade last year of President Barack Obama’s pick for the same seat, Merrick Garland. Senate Republicans refused to even hold a hearing for Garland, saying a high court replacement should be up to the next president.
Gershman hopes the Columbia and Harvard alumnus will help heal the resulting rift between the parties.
“I think he’s there to protect the Constitution and to show the public that it is the Constitution that is going to rule this country and not a group of politicians who happen to be serving on the Supreme Court,” Gershman said.
Gorsuch is being seated just in time to hear one of the biggest cases of the term: a religious rights dispute over a Missouri law that bars churches from receiving public funds for general aid programs.
The White House swearing-in ceremony was a departure from recent history. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were both sworn in publicly at the Supreme Court. Former Justice John Paul Stevens has argued that holding the public ceremony at the court helps drive home the justice’s independence from the White House.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)