23-Sep, 11:10

08:11, February 01 192 0

2017-02-01 08:11:09
On the Runway: Neil Gorsuch: A Supreme Court Nominee Who Looks the Part

In announcing Neil M. Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee during a televised event Tuesday night at the White House, President Trump rightly extolled the judge’s “brilliance,” academic credentials and qualifications, but, interestingly, he left out one of his favorite accolades: that the choice was straight out of “central casting.”

The president had, after all, referred to his military leaders that way during a post-inauguration lunch: “These are central casting,” he said. “If I’m doing a movie, I’d pick you general, General Mattis.”

During the secretary of state beauty pageant in Trump Tower late last year, the then-president-elect was said to be leaning toward selecting Mitt Romney for that job, in part because he looked out of “central casting.” Mr. Trump has also used the phrase to describe his vice president, Mike Pence.

Yet of all the president’s nominees thus far, it’s possible that Judge Gorsuch most merits the description.

He looks the part, from his height to his square chin, with a conservatively trimmed but very healthy shock of gray hair that gives him a reassuring gravitas that his youth (he’s 49) might otherwise belie. (His hair also looks a lot like that of Mr. Pence.) The federal appeals court judge, now based in Denver, telegraphs seriousness of purpose and manliness in the classical mode. In the biopic of the Trump administration that will no doubt come one day, he would be played by a Paul Newman type.

As he stood beside the president on Tuesday, wearing a sober, well-tailored suit with a pure white shirt and a neutral black, white and blue plaid tie — no partisan red — Judge Gorsuch played his current role to perfection, casting his eyes upward as if in search of higher thoughts, and then down to acknowledge the humility he would later express in his acceptance speech. Standing next to him in a simple white shirt and brown skirt, eschewing frippery, was his wife, Louise, looking equally grounded.

It was easy to picture him on the highest bench in the land. Aaron Spelling could not have designed it better.

This is not to say in any way that Judge Gorsuch’s image is more important, or matters more, than his substance and record. But in an administration that places a premium on image (think about the arguments over the pictures showing crowd size at the inauguration), it’s hard to think it doesn’t matter at all — especially as we embark on what will most likely be a fraught confirmation fight. Because for Americans who tuned in to the announcement on Tuesday, or who will see the pictures of the nominee (most of which have a strange, soft focus) but probably will not bother to research the jurisprudence, his look may be convincing. In a branded, visual world, his brand is justice.

This is a reality the president understands as viscerally as anyone who has ever held his office. It’s easy to make fun of it. But we dismiss its effectiveness at our own risk.