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Gorsuch Supreme Court Hearing: How Trump's Pick Compares to Scalia in One Chart

by Sam Petulla /
Judge Neil Gorsuch, left, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin ScaliaGetty: Reuters

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The Supreme Court's open seat was previously held by Justice Antonin Scalia, who was one of the most ideologically conservative voting members of the bench.

How does Judge Neil Gorsuch, nominated to a federal judgeship by Republican President George W. Bush and now nominated to the country's highest court by Republican President Donald Trump, compare? Will he be as conservative, or less so?

As the above chart shows, Gorsuch is expected to occupy approximately the same ideological space as Scalia if confirmed. He would even be slightly to Scalia's right, according to legal scholars.

NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams notes that this outcome is to be expected. Gorsuch grounds his judicial opinion-making in the same process of looking to the original meaning of the Constitution and of laws — originalism — the philosophy that Scalia was famous for.

In fact, a group of legal scholars created a "Scalia-ness" index, a measurement system for how similar judges are to Scalia, and Gorsuch was the judge ranked second-closest to Scalia. The closest to Scalia is Justice Thomas Rex Lee, the associate chief justice on the Utah Supreme Court.

Professor Jeremy Kidd, one of the study's authors, said that "it looks like Gorsuch is a fairly strong originalist, possibly even stronger than Scalia."

The difference between Gorsuch and the late justice may be in how much power Gorsuch grants to administrative agencies, like the EPA, to interpret laws originally written by Congress.

The chart's estimate for Judge Gorsuch was developed by scholars Lee Epstein, Andrew D. Martin and Kevin Quinn, and is based on the past voting records of Supreme Court justices and the ideology of Gorsuch's home state senator.

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