WASHINGTON — Judge Neil Gorsuch was officially sworn in Monday as the 113th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
President Donald Trump praised the new justice, saying he will rule "not on his personal preferences but based on a fair and objective reading of the law."
The 49-year-old appeals court judge from Colorado was the youngest nominee since Clarence Thomas, who made history in 1991 at the age of 43.
Gorsuch was first sworn in privately with Chief Justice John Roberts, before being sworn in by Justice Anthony Kennedy in a public ceremony at the White House.
"This process has reminded me just how outrageously blessed I am in my law clerks, and my family, and my friends. And I hope that I may continue to rely on each of you as I face this new challenge," said Gorsuch.
President Trump praised his new appointee.
"I have no doubt you will go down as one of the truly great justices in the history of the U.S.," Trump said.
Trump also said he recognized the gravity of the opportunity.
"I've always heard that the most important thing that a President of the United States does is appoint people -- hopefully great people like this appointment -- to the United States Supreme Court. And I can say this is a great honor," he reflected.
Monday's ceremony comes after a bruising 66-day confirmation process in which Senate Republicans triggered the "nuclear option," eliminating the 60-vote filibuster threshold for all future high court nominees.
That move came after Democrats, still angry over the GOP blockade of Obama Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland, refused to support Gorsuch.
Key Faith Cases Coming Before the Court
Gorsuch will be seated just in time to weigh in on a dispute over a Missouri law that bars church schools from getting public funds for general aid programs.
The case, which will be heard April 19, involves Trinity Lutheran Church, whose daycare and preschool center was barred from participating in the state's Playground Scrap Tire Surface Materials Grant Program.
The Alliance Defending Freedom has taken up the case and says the Missouri law is a clear violation of the free exercise of religion.
"Seeking to protect children from harm while they play tag and go down the slide is about as far from an 'essentially religious endeavor' as one can get," the ADF's petition read.
"The DNR's (Missouri Department of Natural Resources) religious exclusion sends a message that Trinity's children are less worthy of protection simply because they play on a playground owned by a church," the group charged. "This is not a mild disapproval of religion."
Gorsuch will also be casting a vote in another significant case which pits religious liberty against LGBT rights.
In the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, baker Jack Philips declined to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, saying that doing so would be a violation of his Christian faith.
"This is not about the people who asked for a cake, it's about the message the cake communicates," ADF-allied attorney Nicolle Martin, a co-counsel in the case, said last June 2016. "No artist should be punished for declining to promote ideas or participate in events when they disagree with the message communicated."