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Senate hearings for Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the US Supreme Court are under way in Washington, DC, this week. If appointed, he would have a hand in interpreting the Constitution and thus shaping the nation’s laws relating to primary issues including immigration and deportation; presidential power; free speech; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, said Richard Pacelle, head of UT’s Department of Political Science.

The nomination process also promises to be a bitter partisan battle exaggerated by the refusal of Republicans to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, Pacelle said.

An expert who has written extensively about the Supreme Court, Pacelle noted that appointing a judge to the court is a huge opportunity for any president.

“For a president to get to do so this early in his term is highly unusual,” he said of President Donald Trump.

Pacelle’s most recent book is The Supreme Court in a Separation of Power Systems (2015). Others include Decision-Making by the Modern Supreme Court (2012) and The Role of the Supreme Court in American Politics (2003).

Trump’s appointee would potentially shape the interpretation of the Constitution for 15 to 20 years or longer, Pacelle said. It is a lifetime appointment, and many justices retain their seat until death.

“It used to be that justices retired, but more and more are staying on until they reach their 80s or until they die,” he said.

In addition to immigration, free speech, and LGBT rights, upcoming decisions to watch will relate to reproductive rights, Pacelle said.

“The stakes for this and the next nomination couldn’t be higher and more important and will set things for a generation to come,” he said.

Pacelle’s other research interests encompass American politics, constitutional law, civil liberties, and the judicial process. He is listed in UT’s Experts Guide.


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,