WASHINGTON - For his first Supreme Court nomination, President Trump wanted as staunch a conservative as he could get confirmed. Neil Gorsuch emerged as the guy who looks like he could thread the needle.
He's not the fiery conservative that federal appeals court Judge William Pryor has been for more than a decade on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in the South. But conservatives advising Trump judged that Pryor, 54, might not get through the Senate; he failed in 2003 before getting a second chance for his current post.
He's also not the lesser-known jurist that federal appeals court Judge Thomas Hardiman has been for more than a decade, first on a federal trial court before ascending to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, based in Philadelphia. But conservatives feared that Hardiman, 51, might not turn out to be a worthy successor to the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
In Gorsuch, Trump gets someone who enthuses conservatives but possesses the stellar credentials and winning personality needed to assuage some Senate Democrats — or, at a minimum, virtually every Senate Republican.
With confirmation in mind, here are Gorsuch's pros and cons:
Pro: He's out of central casting. He has degrees from Columbia, Harvard Law and Oxford to boot, where he got a doctorate in legal philosophy.
Con: He's out of central casting. Trump originally sought to diversify the court from its Ivy League pedigree.
Pro: He's a true Westerner, born and raised in Denver, an avid skier who used to go fishing with Scalia. For a court dominated by New Yorkers and with only one Californian, he brings geographical diversity.
Con: He isn't Merrick Garland. Most Senate Democrats likely will argue that no Trump nominee deserves their support after Republicans refused to grant a hearing or a vote to Garland, President Obama's compromise choice last March to replace Scalia.
Pro: He's Scalia Light. A firm adherent of the late justice's belief that the Constitution and laws should be followed rather than liberally interpreted, Gorsuch seems like a deserving recipient of Scalia's seat.
Con: "Scalia" is a dirty word among liberals who excoriated the late justice for his acerbic opinions and rhetoric, even if on the losing side, on issues ranging from civil rights to same-sex marriage.
Pro: He's a gifted writer who goes out of his way to make his opinions accessible to average readers, in the tradition of Scalia and the most recent Supreme Court nominee, Justice Elena Kagan.
Con: His rhetorical flourishes, in opinions and outside speeches, could give Democrats fodder to question and attack him on issues such as abortion and assisted suicide — the latter being a topic Gorsuch tackled (and opposed) in a 2006 book.
Pro: He's been around the block. Even at 49, Gorsuch boasts considerable experience in Washington, D.C., where he worked in private practice and at the Justice Department.
Con: Washington experience is a double-edged sword. Democrats surely will associate Gorsuch with decisions made by the Bush administration while he worked there. Anti-Washington sentiment kept top-notch prospects such as federal appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh and former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement off Trump's list.