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Meet Donald Trump’s pick for Supreme Court: Neil Gorsuch

Brendan Smialowski / AFP

John Burger - published on 01/31/17 - updated on 06/08/17

Colorado native is close to the late Antonin Scalia in judicial philosophy

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump said that if he were elected he would appoint judges “very much in the mold of” deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

And on Friday, Vice President Michael R. Pence told attendees at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., “Next week, President Donald Trump will announce a Supreme Court nominee who will uphold the God-given liberties enshrined in our Constitution in the tradition of the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia.”

As news leaked Tuesday evening that Trump would nominate Neil Gorsuch, commentators were indeed finding similarities between Scalia and the man who might take the seat vacated by his death almost one year ago.

Gorsuch’s legal philosophy is “remarkably similar to that of Antonin Scalia,” said National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru. “He is, like Scalia, a textualist and an originalist: someone who interprets legal provisions as their words were originally understood.”

Ponnuru quoted from a tribute Gorsuch offered when Scalia died last February:

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.”

As for Gorsuch’s views on some of the hot-button social issues that likely will animate both supporters and opponents of his nomination, Ponnuru points out:

  • Gorsuch dissented last year when his colleagues on the Tenth Circuit Court blocked an attempt by the Republican governor of Utah to end state funding for Planned Parenthood. But he faulted their decision on procedural, not ideological, grounds, arguing that the appeals court was showing too little deference to the factual findings of a lower court that had ruled in the governor’s favor.
  • Gorsuch voted to hold that the Obama administration had violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by refusing to exempt religious employers from a requirement to cover contraceptives in their insurance plans.
  • He concurred in a decision freeing the Hobby Lobby chain from the Affordable Care Act’s “contraceptive mandate” and joined a dissent arguing that the Little Sisters of the Poor had shown that the Obama administration’s fines for noncompliance with the mandate amounted to a substantial burden on the exercise of their faith.

Gorsuch, 49, has served on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico, since 2006, the year President George W. Bush nominated him. The Colorado native attended Harvard Law School with former President Barack Obama and is a firm Constitutionalist, said the Independent Journal Review. The IJR explained:

He has praised the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s dedication to “textualism,” or the interpretation of laws based on the actual text rather than trying to decipher the “intent” of lawmakers or other potential consequences.

Gorsuch received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1988, and aside from Harvard, he also attended Oxford, where he received a doctorate. He clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron R. White and Anthony M. Kennedy, 1993-1994, and before that for Judge David B. Sentelle of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He was in private practice, 1995-2005, and served as principal deputy to the associate attorney general and acting associate attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice, 2005-2006.

According to Wikipedia, Gorsuch and his wife, Louise, have two daughters, Emma, born in 1999, and Belinda, born 2001. Gorsuch enjoys being outdoors and fly fishing. He raises horses, chickens, and goats, and often arranges ski trips with colleagues and friends.

Gorsuch has authored The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, published by Princeton University Press in July 2006. Gorsuch wrote in the book that euthanasia should not be legalized in any form but argued that people have a right to refuse treatment even where such refusal may have the effect of causing their death.

When Gorsuch’s name first emerged last week as one of three “finalists” for the SCOTUS position, Princeton Professor Robert P. George called him “a friend of mine and someone I greatly admire.”

“He would be a superb Supreme Court justice,” George posted on Facebook. “He is intellectually extremely gifted and is deeply committed to the (actual) Constitution and the rule of law. He will not manufacture ‘rights’ or read things into the Constitution that aren’t there or read things out of the Constitution that are. Judge Gorsuch’s excellent book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, is published under my general editorship in the Princeton University Press New Forum Books series. He also contributed a fine essay to a collection of writings in honor of John Finnis that I co-edited with Professor John Keown of Georgetown. Professor Finnis, the eminent Oxford legal and moral philosopher who revitalized the study of natural law in Anglo-American analytical philosophy and jurisprudence, was Judge Gorsuch’s doctoral dissertation supervisor.”


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