Article Feb 1, 2017

Explainer: What you should know about Judge Neil Gorsuch

President Donald Trump has announced his nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Here is what you should know about the latest nominee for associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Neil Gorsuch

Age: 49

Birthplace: Denver, Colorado

Education: B.A. from Columbia University; J.D. from Harvard Law School; PhD in Law from University College at Oxford University.

Current judgeship: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (appointed by George W. Bush).

Previous roles: In the early 1990s, Judge Gorsuch clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He served in private practice at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel, and served as principal deputy to the associate attorney general and acting associate attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice.

Religious denomination: Episcopalian

Family: Judge Gorsuch is married and has two daughters. His mother served as President Reagan’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Judicial philosophy: Judge Gorsuch is considered a proponent of originalism, a manner of interpreting the Constitution that begins with the text and attempts to give that text the meaning it had when it was adopted, and textualism, a method of statutory interpretation that relies on the plain text of a statute to determine its meaning.

Positions and rulings

Gorsuch sided with Christian employers and religious organizations in the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor Supreme Court cases.  In the Hobby Lobby case, Gorsuch wrote, “The ACA’s mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong.”

He also wrote a book titled The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, which makes the case against legalization. (However, during his confirmation hearing he said he would follow the law rather than personal convictions, and that in his writings he has largely defended existing precedent in these areas.)

Here are selected quotes from his book:

• “Perhaps the most profound indicium of the innate value of human life, however, lies in our respect for the idea of human equality. The 14th amendment to the US Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws to all persons… This profound social and political commitment to human equality is grounded on, and an expression of, the belief that all persons innately have dignity and are worthy of respect without regard to their perceived value based on some instrumental scale of usefulness or merit. We treat people as worthy of equal respect because of their status as human beings and without regard to their looks, gender, race, creed, or any other incidental trait- because in the words of the Declaration of Independence, we hold it as ‘self-evident’ that ‘all men [and women] are created equal’ and enjoy ‘certain unalienable rights’ and ‘that among these are Life.’”

• “American history is replete with arguments for applying eugenics theories (such as sterilization) to this group or that group on the grounds that such persons lack this or that arbitrary prerequisite for full ‘personhood.’”

• “… it is simply not acceptable when we are deciding who is and is not treated as fully human… it is incompatible with the promise of equal justice under law that any of us should feel at liberty to sit in judgement to decide who is and who is not entitled to the benefits of that promise.”

• “…If, as I have argued, human life qualifies as a basic good it follows that we can and should refrain from actions intended to do it harm. Such actions, after all, by their very definition evince a denial of life’s innate worth; they bespeak the view that human life is not itself a sufficient reason for action in and of itself but may be deliberately subordinated to other efforts and ends. To act intentionally against life is to suggest that its value rests only on its transient instrumental usefulness for other ends.”

• “While laws against assisted suicide plainly restrict some choice, consistent with the inviolability-of-life principle, they restrict only a limited arena of human actions—those intended to help kill.”

Judge Gorsuch has not made public comments or judicial rulings on abortion issues.

Press release and Russell Moore's thoughts on the appointment can be found here.