Written by Steven Spear, Jr.
Edited by Morgan DeLisle
Who is Neil Gorsuch?
Neil Gorsuch was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1967. He received his Juris Doctor from Harvard in 1991 and a Doctorate in Legal Philosophy from Oxford University in 2004. Gorsuch has had an impressive legal career: he served as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy from 1991-1994, went into private practice from 1994-2005, worked in the U.S. Justice Department from 2005-2006, and was appointed by President Bush to U.S. Court of Appeals in 2006. President Trump nominated Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court in February, and the nomination must be approved by the Senate.
Today, Gorsuch appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first step in his confirmation. The committee has three options:
- Forward Gorsuch for consideration of the full Senate with the Committee’s recommendation
- Forward Gorsuch for consideration of the full Senate without the Committee’s recommendation
- Refuse to forward Gorsuch for consideration of the full Senate. If this happened, the President would have to nominate someone else
Why is Gorsuch important?
The Supreme Court makes decisions on whether actions taken by the President, Congress, businesses, and people are in line with the Constitution. In February 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia died. President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland as a replacement, but the Senate refused to give him a hearing—Senate Republicans claimed that because 2016 was the last year of Obama’s term and an election year, voters should choose a new President to nominate a replacement.
Scalia’s death left the Court with eight members, and the possibility of their decisions ending in a tie (nothing happens in a tied decision; they are a waste of time). Ties are more likely to happen because the judicial philosophy of the Court is equally divided between judicial restraint (generally conservative) and judicial activism (generally liberal). According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,
judicial restraint: judicial interpretation granting substantial deference to the views of the elected branches and invalidating their actions only when constitutional limits have clearly been violated
judicial activism: judicial interpretation where judges enforce their own views of constitutional requirements rather than deferring to the views of other government officials or earlier courts
Republican Presidents tend to nominate candidates advocating judicial restraint, and President Trump’s nomination of Judge Gorsuch is no exception. With the Court being evenly divided, adding Gorsuch would give an advantage to the conservative Justices.
It is worthy to note that Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life. Gorsuch turns fifty in August, so if confirmed, he would likely spend over thirty years on the Court handing down conservative opinions. That is why Gorsuch is so important.
How is Gorsuch as a judge?
“Judges should strive to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be—not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best.”
Campaign finance: Gorsuch voted to overturn a Colorado law to set the limit on donations for write-in candidates.
Religion: Gorsuch ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores when the company claimed that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers’ insurance plans provide contraceptives to its employees violated its religious beliefs. He uses a wide interpretation of religious freedom in his decisions. Gorsuch said,
“the law […] perhaps does its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.”