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Gorsuch, a Conservative Firebrand in College, -2-

19 Mar 2017 7:13 pm

At a poker game, Mr. Gorsuch mentioned meeting a woman the prior year in a college dining hall. Mr. Mammen realized he was describing Louise Burletson, who had since graduated, and he passed along her contacts. The two later married and had two daughters.

Returning stateside, Mr. Gorsuch plunged into corporate litigation, joining in 1996 the firm now named Kellogg Hansen.

While the onetime firebrand had evolved into a respectable Republican lawyer, his ambitions to shape policy remained. His chance came in 2004, when he joined prep-school buddy Mr. Trent to help on President George W. Bush's re-election campaign. Within two weeks, he wrote to the White House political director, Matt Schlapp, offering his services.

"Matt, I spent some time in Ohio working on the election," he wrote in an email obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. "What a magnificent result for the country. For me personally, the experience was invigorating and a great deal of fun. And the experience rekindled my interest in public service and a strong desire to work for this Administration."

In 2005, he was appointed principal deputy to Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum, who oversaw the Justice Department's civil litigation. When a vacancy arose on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006, Mr. Gorsuch saw a chance to return to Colorado and make an impact on the law. He was nominated and confirmed without controversy.

As a circuit judge, he built a reputation as collegial and civic-minded. He issued conservative opinions but largely avoided the snark and point-scoring that some judges engaged in. He hired clerks from beyond his ideological camp, including several who became clerks for liberal Supreme Court justices and now advocate for his elevation.

"He's a towering intellect. Anybody who knows him at all will tell you that," said former Gorsuch clerk Jason Murray, now of the Denver firm Bartlit Beck. He displays "impressive humility," Mr. Murray said. "If you read his opinions, they march through the legal issue with great care and great respect for the arguments of the opposing side."

Mr. Murray went from Judge Gorsuch's chambers to those of Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee who was hunting buddies with Justice Scalia, and he predicts the two would get along well. While they differ in orientation, he said, "they are speaking the same language."

Those who aren't sold include Wake Forest University law professor Russell Gold, who clerked for 10th Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero, a Bill Clinton appointee. "Gorsuch was always very careful," he said. "He always had an eye on the Supreme Court, and was sort of tiptoeing around everything quite carefully to get there."

While Judge Gorsuch hasn't ruled directly on some of the most divisive issues, his court opinions, political pedigree and off-the-bench writings suggest a serious judge whose views would plant him on the Supreme Court's right wing where Justice Scalia left off on issues from gay rights to gun regulations.

University of Colorado law professor Melissa Hart, a Democrat who has endorsed Judge Gorsuch's confirmation, said "the man that I know today seems very different from the college reactionary that he was."

Ms. Hart said Judge Gorsuch sometimes has sounded like his mother, the political streetfighter. But he also was close to his late father, who taught the son to fish. ("He's more like our dad," said brother J.J. Gorsuch, "most like our maternal grandfather, who was the picture of patience.")

"Everyone who talks about his father talks about what an extraordinary gentleman he was and how gracious he was," Ms. Hart said. "When I think of Judge Gorsuch, those are the two people who raised him. And maybe both of those two qualities are there."

--Dan Frosch and Aruna Viswanatha contributed to this article.
 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 19, 2017 15:13 ET (19:13 GMT)

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