Minnesota jurists familiar with Neil Gorsuch, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge tapped by President Donald Trump for the Supreme Court on Tuesday, recalled a “brilliant” legal mind whose intellect could soften the blow of an unfavorable ruling.
During breaks in a jury trial he oversaw in Minneapolis on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz was able to monitor reports that Gorsuch, a close friend, was one of two candidates asked by Trump to travel to Washington for the president’s unusual prime-time televised announcement.
“He is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” Schiltz said of Gorsuch. “And he knows a lot about a lot, including not just law, but history and philosophy. He writes elegantly. Most of his opinions are easy even for laypersons to understand.”
Schiltz and Gorsuch, each Harvard Law alumni, became friends after the two were appointed in 2010 to a committee that approves amendments to rules governing federal court proceedings. Schiltz said the two judges also recently agreed to “split” a law clerk who will work for Schiltz next year and Gorsuch in 2019.
Both judges were appointed to their respective positions by President George W. Bush. Gorsuch worked for two years in Bush’s Justice Department before his appointment to his appeals court seat in Denver in 2006.
Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch, 49, drew opposition from both advocates and elected officials who cited his role in the Hobby Lobby case, during which Gorsuch sided with plaintiffs raising religious objections to the Obama administration’s requirements that employers provide health insurance that includes contraception for women.
In a statement late Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn, called Trump’s nomination “an all-out attack on our rights as Americans.”
“Make no mistake: Judge Gorsuch is a radical choice for the Supreme Court,” McCollum said. “If confirmed, he will be a vote to end a woman’s right to choose, reverse progress on LGBT rights, and champion the interests of big business over working families.”
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside Sen. Amy Klobuchar, said he had serious concerns about Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy on issues like “access to justice, corporate accountability, workers’ rights and women’s health.”
Minneapolis attorney Chris Madel twice argued a case before Gorsuch, whose appellate panel in 2014 affirmed a $185 million judgment awarded to a group of clients Madel represented in a fraud suit.
“You can disagree with his politics, you can disagree with his approach but you can’t disagree with his intellect,” Madel said. “He was very down-to-earth with his questions. He was tough, he was engaging and he asked really smart questions.”
If confirmed, Gorsuch would fill the vacancy left by the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia, whom the nominee admired.
Schiltz said Gorsuch’s “chief interest is law” but that the nominee also tried to impress upon his friend a love for the outdoors. Gorsuch once invited him to go mountain climbing during a Phoenix trip.
“I declined, as I had only wingtip shoes with me on the trip,” Schiltz said. “He did not think that much of an excuse.”