Neil M. Gorsuch joined the Supreme Court on Monday morning as Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, for whom Gorsuch once clerked, administered the judicial oath of office in a formal Rose Garden ceremony.
The White House event shortly after 11 a.m. followed a private swearing-in two hours earlier at the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. officiated.
“I have no doubt that you will go down as one of the truly great justices in the history of the Supreme Court,” President Donald Trump said to his nominee, in opening remarks in the Rose Garden.
Gorsuch becomes the 113th justice in Supreme Court history, filling the ninth seat on the bench that had been vacant since the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia nearly 14 months ago.
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Gorsuch, who will turn 50 in August, is the youngest current member of the court. He had served since 2006 on the Colorado-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Justice Gorsuch, you are now entrusted with the sacred duty of defending our Constitution,” Trump said, adding:
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. I have no doubt you will rise to the occasion and that the decisions you will make will not only protect our Constitution today, but for many generations to come.
Gorsuch took the oath of office—taken by public servants in all U.S. government branches—at the private ceremony scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Supreme Court. Gorsuch took the oath with his left hand upon a family Bible held by his wife Louise.
Little more than two hours later, Gorsuch took the judicial oath administered by Kennedy in the Rose Garden. This time his wife held the Bible as Trump, who nominated Gorsuch Jan. 31, looked on.
This particular oath, Kennedy said in brief remarks, also dates to 1789 and “reminds us that we as a people are bound together.”
All current justices, as well as Scalia’s widow, Maureen, and eldest son, Eugene, were present for both ceremonies.
“I’ve always heard the most important thing a president of the United States does is appoint people, hopefully great people like this appointment, to the United States Supreme Court, and I can say this is a great honor,” Trump said beforehand.
The president added, to laughter: “And I got it done even in the first 100 days. You think that’s easy?”
Trump noted that Gorsuch and Kennedy are the first former clerk and justice to serve together on the nation’s highest court.
“You remember that, right?” the president quipped, turning to the two men and referring to their prior association. “That’s sort of a big deal,” he added.
The Senate confirmed Gorsuch by a 54-45 vote Friday, after Republicans triggered the so-called nuclear option Thursday to end Democrats’ filibuster and require only 51 votes rather than 60 to end debate and proceed to a vote. Only three Democrats voted to confirm him.
Gorsuch thanked the president, vice president, and the team, led by former Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, that saw him through “months and so many miles trooping together thru the Senate complex” during the confirmation process.
He also thanked by name Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, both of whom fended off Democrats’ multiple attempts to derail his nomination.
To his former law clerks and friends, Gorsuch said: “This is truly your doing, this is your day. … You know who you are, and you know your names are etched in my heart forever.”
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Addressing Scalia’s widow, the new justice pledged: “To the family of Justice Scalia: I will never forget that the seat I inherit today is that of a very, very great man.”
Gorsuch’s voice broke slightly as he thanked his wife and two children.
Gorsuch also had a word for his new colleagues.
“Thank you for the warm welcome,” he said. “I look forward to many happy years together.”
Those years begin right away. Gorsuch will rule on several high-profile cases, as the court meets in private as early as Thursday to consider cases for the upcoming term.
“The swearing in of Neil Gorsuch, who is a committed constitutionalist, is a big victory for conservatives and the Trump administration,” said Elizabeth Slattery, a legal fellow in the The Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Constitutional Government.
Slattery said Gorsuch understands how the framers of the Constitution designed the judiciary branch to act and will interpret the nation’s laws in such a way.
“[Gorsuch] will likely have an impact on religious liberty and tackling the administrative state,” she said. “His record as an appeals court judge shows a respect for all religious believers, whether they have views that are currently popular or politically correct.”
Referring to Gorsuch’s predecessor, who was beloved by conservatives, Slattery said the new justice “will no doubt live up to the standard set by Justice Antonin Scalia.”
Five of the nine justices now on the court have been appointed by a Republican president.
Gorsuch’s name was on one of two lists of judges that Trump released during his campaign. He vowed to choose from the combined list, recommended separately by The Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, in naming Supreme Court justices.
John Malcolm, director of Heritage’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, expressed a similar positive sentiment regarding Gorsuch’s swearing-in.
“Today is a historic day, as a fine man and excellent judge has now become our nation’s 113th Supreme Court justice,” Malcolm said. “I have no doubt that he will distinguish himself, and that his lodestar will be fidelity to the Constitution and rule of law.”
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.