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Who is Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch? ‘A really nice guy,’ but critics wonder if that’s enough

First Published      Last Updated Mar 18 2017 10:29 am

Washington • It's poker night in a row house on Cranham Street, Oxford, England, and Neil Gorsuch, studying for yet another degree, is feeling down. His housemates decide that what Gorsuch needs is a girlfriend.

Accounts differ on whether it was a dare, goading or a gentle prod, but Gorsuch phones a woman he'd clicked with during a school dinner more than a year earlier — and she doesn't remember him.

Awkward.

That 1994 phone call may be one of the few times that Gorsuch, a federal judge nominated for the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump, didn't immediately stand out from the crowd. Louise Burletson agreed to go out with him anyway, and ultimately married the man Trump now describes as "perfect in almost every way" for the high court.




Gorsuch, whose Senate confirmation hearings begin Monday, is roundly described by colleagues and friends as a silver-haired combination of wicked smarts, down-to-earth modesty, disarming warmth and careful deliberation.

Critics largely agree. But even so, they don't think he belongs on the court, believing him too quick to side with conservative and business interests at the expense of working Americans and the poor.

At age 49, Gorsuch already has marked his 10th anniversary as an appellate judge in Colorado, styling himself in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative powerhouse whom he would replace.

In his writings and lectures, Gorsuch offers himself as a "workaday judge," one wearing "honest, unadorned black polyester" robes from a uniform supply store. (Those robes perhaps hiding coffee stains on the shirt underneath, Gorsuch admits.)

Self-deprecation is not just his shtick.

Gorsuch never mentioned to his best friend, Michael Trent, that he'd been added to the list of prospective justices Trump released last fall.

Superstitious about his prospects for joining the court, the Denver-based judge put off decisions about where his family would live in Washington and his two teenage girls would attend school, telling Trent, "I'm not there yet.

———

Who is Neil Gorsuch?

He's the dad whose standing birthday present from his family is an agreement to watch a Western with him.

He's the sports nut who jogs with his law clerks, teaches them the Zen of fly fishing and waits at the top of the ski slopes to see which of them he'll need to help up after a fall.

He's the friend whose buddies remember his spot-on impressions of Jimmy Stewart and John McLaughlin, the conservative commentator who pioneered TV political talkfests.

He's the writerly judge who crafts his opinions with uncommon clarity , going so far as to diagram a sentence in one ruling.

"He's someone who knows the names of the security guards at the courthouse and gets to know who their families are," says former law clerk Theresa Wardon.

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