Gorsuch had gone further when President Trump announced his selection on Jan. 31 by praising "the towering judges" who had served in the seat: not only Scalia but also Robert Jackson, a Democrat named by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941. Somewhat oddly, Gorsuch skipped over Scalia's immediate predecessor, William Rehnquist, who held the seat as associate justice until his elevation to be chief justice in 1986.
Apart from Jackson and one other justice, the seat that dates back to 1863 has been held by judicial conservatives for all but a 30-year period. The seat that Gorsuch is shown in Supreme Court charts as seat #10: historically, the tenth seat of what is now a nine-seat court.
The Republican-majority Congress added a tenth seat to the court in 1863 partly to give President Abraham Lincoln stronger support on a court that had upheld his wartime blockade of southern courts by only a one-vote margin. To fill the new seat, Lincoln appointed Democrat Stephen Field, then serving on the California Supreme Court after having relocated to the West from his native Connecticut.
Field was commended to Lincoln as a strong supporter of the Union and an expert in land and mineral issues then of special interest to western states. He became a stalwart on a court that became increasingly conservative over time as seen in decisions striking down federal civil rights laws and the first federal income tax.
Field served for what was then a record 34 years until, with his mental abilities in evident decline, the other justices prevailed on him to retire in 1899 at age 82. The court had long since reverted to nine members, however. When Justice Joseph Catron died in April 1865, the Republican Congress abolished what was then shown as the court's eighth seat rather than allow the new president, the ex-southern Democrat Andrew Johnson, to fill the seat.
All but one of the six justices to hold the seat after Field until Gorsuch were Republicans appointed by Republican presidents; of those five, four proved to be reliably conservative on the bench. Two others had more liberal records: Harlan Fiske Stone, nominated by Calvin Coolidge in 1925, and Jackson, who was Democrat Franklin Roosevelt's choice for Stone's seat when he elevated Stone to chief justice in 1941.
As Field's successor, President William McKinley chose Joseph McKenna, a one-time colleague of McKinley's in the U.S. House of Representatives. McKenna had a generally conservative record on the bench. Like Field before him, McKenna overstayed his welcome. With his mental faculties noticeably in decline, Chief Justice William Howard Taft persuaded McKenna to retire in 1925 at age 81.
As McKenna's successor, Coolidge picked Stone, his attorney general and a former Wall Street banker. Stone aligned himself in the 1930s with liberal justices Louis Brandeis and Benjamin Cardozo in voting to uphold some of FDR's New Deal enactments that were struck down often by 5-4 votes. When FDR got a series of Supreme Court appointments beginning in 1937, Stone became part of a reliable pro-New Deal majority. And in 1941 Roosevelt was persuaded to name Stone as chief justice to gain Republican support as World War II loomed.
To succeed Stone as associate justice, Roosevelt picked his attorney general, Robert H. Jackson, who had been FDR's initial choice for the center seat. Jackson is held in high regard today as one of the best writers in Supreme Court history and as one of the strongest defenders of civil liberties for example, in striking down mandatory flag salute laws and in dissenting from the decision to uphold the wartime internment of Japanese Americans.
Jackson died in office in 1954 after joining, despite initial doubts, the Brown v. Board of Education decision to prohibit racial segregation in schools. As his successor, President Dwight Eisenhower chose John Marshall Harlan, namesake grandson of the justice now best remembered for dissenting in 1896 when the court upheld legally enforced racial segregation.
Harlan faced questions about Brown from southern senators and was confirmed by what was then an unusual divided vote of 71-11. He compiled a generally conservative record during the Warren Court's upheavals on civil liberties and criminal law. Harlan retired in September 1971, gravely ill at age 72, and died three months later.
President Richard Nixon chose Rehnquist, then an associate attorney general in the Justice Department, for the vacancy barely a month after Harlan's retirement. Rehnquist's conservative record provoked a fight with Democrats in the Senate, but he won confirmation by a vote of 68-26. As associate justice, he was the most conservative member of the Burger Court and was then chosen by President Ronald Reagan as Burger's successor in 1986.
The controversy over Rehnquist allowed Scalia to glide unopposed to a 98-0 confirmation despite his already evident conservative views. Scalia's legacy after a tenure that fell seven months short of 30 years was a constant backdrop for Gorsuch's nomination: praised by Trump and Republican senators but his judicial philosophy criticized by Democrats. Gorsuch's final shoutout before getting down to work gives the strongest clue yet that he expects to be true to Scalia's memory.