As a constitutional attorney who learned about the law from Justice Scalia’s opinions and writing and as a Christian attorney who is continually inspired by his convictional, passionate, well-lived life, the stakes for his successor could not be more high.
But Judge Neil Gorsuch is perfectly poised to become a Supreme Court justice that would make Justice Scalia proud. Here are five reasons why Judge Gorsuch will make an excellent Supreme Court justice:
1. Judge Gorsuch is an originalist and a textualist, understanding the proper role of the judiciary.
“It’s a pizzazzy topic: Constitutional interpretation.” Thus begins an iconic speech delivered by the late Justice Scalia in 2005. But it’s one of the best things to read to understand the judicial philosophy of originalism. As Scalia himself said, “Our manner of interpreting the Constitution is to begin with the text, and to give that text the meaning that it bore when it was adopted by the people.” Combating the modern era of those who believe the Constitution is a “living document” and judges are free to read new freedoms into it, originalists believe that new freedoms can be established by the people’s elected representatives, but not the judiciary.
While Scalia did not invent originalism, he did invent the modern philosophy of interpreting statutes known as textualism – meaning that statutes and laws should be interpreted by judges simply using the words of the text alone, refusing to debate the legislative history, intents, or purposes various lawmakers may have had while debating and passing the bill.
Judges should instead strive (if humanly and so imperfectly) 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. As Justice Scalia put it, “if you’re going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.”
2. Judge Gorsuch understands the foundational and fundamental importance of religious liberty – it’s for everyone.
While many rightly recognize Gorsuch’s rulings siding with Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor against the Obama administration’s HHS mandate, his extensive history on the bench shows that he understands the core component of religious liberty – it’s for everyone.
Our Founding Fathers enshrined the freedom to exercise one’s faith in every aspect of life against government encroachment. Judge Gorsuch has consistently ruled that every American has these fundamental freedoms, even if they’re unpopular, a minority, or in prison.
Judge Gorsuch sided with Andrew Yellowbear, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe serving a life sentence for beating his two-year-old daughter to death. When a federal prison denied Yellowbear access to the sweat lodge in the main prison yard, Judge Gorsuch ruled that our laws clearly protect “those sincerely seeking to exercise religion.”
He also sided with Madyn Abdulhaseeb, a Muslim man who sued his prison for denying him halal meals. Judge Gorsuch has repeatedly defended the religious liberty of everyone, something we can all learn from.
3. Judge Gorsuch is a persuasively powerful communicator of ideas and ideals.
Since his nomination, numerous liberals who worked in the Obama administration have publicly supported Judge Gorsuch and his nomination. Why? Because he is a decent man, listens to and works alongside others who disagree with him, and thoughtfully communicates his perspective in ways that make others think deeply.
Many of these same things were said about Justice Scalia. Even Justice Elena Kagan says she’s a fan of Judge Gorsuch’s writing style. What’s not to love? One opinion circulating in many profiles begins this way: “Haunted houses may be full of ghosts, goblins, and guillotines, but it’s their more prosaic features that pose the real danger.” He cares deeply about crafting his sentences with care, to ensure they focus on the real people and real problems of the cases before him.
For a job in which thinking clearly and writing persuasively matters most, Judge Gorsuch is poised to continue the long tradition of explaining and defending our nation’s ideals for years to come.
4. Judge Gorsuch isn’t afraid to rule against the government.
In our federal government, the judiciary defends the Constitution and the rule of law from legislators and executives who abuse their power by overreaching. In an era of increasing executive power and unelected bureaucrats regulating ever more areas of our lives, it’s important that our justices aren’t afraid to rule against those in power.
He’s defended the 4th Amendment for citizens whose constitutional rights were abused by police officers, a seventh grader wrongfully arrested for burping in gym class, and nuns serving the poor whose religious liberty was trampled by burdensome regulations.
He will clearly stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law against anyone trampling on the rights of American citizens.
5. Judge Gorsuch understands the roots of American freedom.
Justice Scalia consistently stood up for the principle that the roots of our freedom are found in the structural provisions of the U.S. Constitution, from its checks and balances and separation of powers to federalism and enumerated rights. Judge Gorsuch understands these principles and how they apply to a fundamental truth that changes everything – we do not get our rights from the government, but from God. This self-evident truth has shaped our government from its inception. I’ll conclude with these words from Judge Gorsuch himself in his book on euthanasia:
“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.’”