US president Donald Trump fulfilled another of his signature election promises by nominating judge Neil Gorsuch, a reliable conservative on a federal appeals court in Colorado, to the US supreme court.
In a televised prime-time announcement that drew on the president’s background in reality TV, Mr Trump unveiled judge Gorsuch as his pick to fill the pivotal vacant seat on the country’s highest court.
The appointment of the 49-year-old Colorado native to the seat held by the late justice Antonin Scalia, who died last year, would restore the conservative five-to-four majority on the nine-seat court and influence its rulings on contentious issues from abortion and gun control to the death penalty and religious freedom.
Since Mr Scalia’s death, the court has been deadlocked, divided along ideological lines, for almost a year.
The president said Mr Gorsuch had a “super intellect, an unparalleled legal education and a commitment to interpreting the constitution according to text.”
Mr Trump had repeatedly promised at campaign rally after campaign rally to nominate a conservative like Mr Scalia, an icon to many on the centre-right to far-right, if he was elected president.
Mr Gorsuch was chosen from a shortlist of 21 that Mr Trump released during the election campaign,
"Millions of voters said this was the single most important issue to them, and I am a man of my word and will do what I say, something the American people have been asking of Washington for a very long time," Mr Trump said introducing the judge and his wife in the East Room of the White House.
The US president said that the judge had "outstanding legal skills, a brilliant legal mind and has earned bipartisan support," referring to his confirmation on a simple cross-party voice vote when he was nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver by former president George W Bush in 2006.
Grandstanding at the event, Mr Trump asked the audience that included US vice-president Mike Pence and House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan: "So was that a surprise? Was it?"
Accepting the nomination, Mr Gorsuch said: “I am honoured and I am humbled.”
Mr Trump's nominee faces a rocky path to confirmation as Democrats, still angry at Republicans for stonewalling judge Merrick Garland, the last Supreme Court nominee of former president Barack Obama, are intent on exacting revenge on their political opponents by blocking the new president.
Democrats have made the vacant supreme court seat a battleground issue in the aftermath of the last week’s executive order blocking immigrants from seven Muslim countries and barring refugees.
The Democratic senate minority leader Chuck Schumer promised a hard fought confirmation battle ahead, expressing "serious doubts" about Mr Trump's pick and asserting that Mr Gorsuch clear a congressional procedural hurdle of 60 votes in the 100-seat US senate rather than a simple 51-seat majority.
"The Senate must insist upon 60 votes for any supreme court nominee," the New York Democrat said. "Make no mistake, Senate Democrats will not simply allow but require an exhaustive, robust and comprehensive examination of Judge Gorsuch's fitness to be a supreme court justice."
Republicans, who have 52 senators to the 48 Democrats, would require eight Democrats to flip to confirm Mr Gorsuch but the deep divisions after a long and protracted 2016 election, exacerbated by Mr Trump’s far-reaching orders since taking office, make a Democratic filibuster all but inevitable.
"A little more than a week into the Trump presidency, the new administration has violated our core values, challenged the separation of powers and tested the very fabric of our constitution in unprecedented fashion," said Mr Schumer, raising the stakes in the battle for ideological control of the supreme court.
“It is clear that the supreme court will be tried in ways that few courts have been tested since the earliest days of the republic.”
Mr Gorsuch, the son of Anne Gorsuch, a high-ranking official in the Reagan administration and the first woman to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, has won admirers on the right with his strong positions in favour of religious freedom and against gun control and gay rights.
He backed employers who had raised objections on religious grounds to providing forms of contraception to female workers under Mr Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
In 2015 he supported a ruling against a transgender woman who was denied access to hormone therapy while incarcerated, dismissing the prisoner’s claims that the denial of care amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the US constitution.
Echoing many concerns raised by Mr Scalia - a man he called the “lion of the law” last night - Mr Gorsuch criticised American liberals in a 2005 National Review article for becoming “addicted to the courtroom, relying on judges and lawyers rather than elected leaders and the ballot box.”
An Episcopalian, Mr Gorsuch - a graduate of Columbia University, Harvard and Oxford University - would be the only Protestant on the current court, which comprises five Catholics and three Jewish judges.
He is the youngest Supreme Court nominee in a quarter of a century.
The Democratic minority leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, described Mr Gorsuch as a "very hostile appointment."
“This is a very bad decision, well outside the mainstream of American political thought,” she said.