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Judge Neil Gorsuch: What You Need to Know About the SCOTUS Nominee

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On January 31, President Donald Trump announced his decision to nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch to become the next associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Judge Gorsuch currently sits on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he has served since 2006. He was nominated to the Tenth Circuit by George W. Bush and won confirmation through a non-controversial voice vote in the United States Senate.

Judge Neil Gorsuch

Judge Neil Gorsuch

According to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate will hold a confirmation vote on Judge Gorsuch before Congress begins a two-week Easter recess on April 7. Should he win confirmation, President Trump’s nominee would replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, once again returning the Supreme Court to its full complement of nine justices.

As a nominee, Judge Gorsuch is exceedingly well-qualified. A graduate of Columbia University, he also holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. from Oxford University. He previously clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy and served as “principal deputy to the associate attorney general and acting associate attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice from 2005 to 2006.”

Gorsuch is a well-respected conservative jurist with “a reputation for legal excellence.” His nomination was met with vigorous support from many who desired to see President Trump select a nominee capable of advancing the legacy of Justice Scalia. Like Scalia, Gorsuch is described as a textualist and an originalist—his fundamental commitment is to “interpret legal provisions as their words were originally understood.” Much can be learned about his judicial philosophy from this portion of a tribute he penned to Justice Scalia after his death:

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, “[i]f 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.

Immediately following his nomination, many conservative evangelical and Catholic leaders also rallied to support Judge Gorsuch. Southern Baptist leaders including Russell Moore, R. Albert Mohler, Daniel Akin, Frank Page, Thom Rainer, Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear joined other evangelical leaders such as D.A. Carson, Alistair Begg, Erick Erickson, Greg Laurie and Matthew Pinson in signing a written statement supporting the appointment of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. According to the statement,

One of the highest priorities in the United States is the appointment of a Supreme Court justice who upholds the Constitution’s first freedoms. By all indication, Judge Gorsuch interprets the Constitution in accordance with America’s tradition of limited government … the 115th Senate should work diligently to confirm his appointment without obstruction.

As he stated many times in his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Judge Gorsuch has participated in more than 2,700 federal court rulings and opinions. Of particular interest to Christians is his record on religious liberty. In the now infamous Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, as well as the case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, Judge Gorsuch “sided with Christian employers and religious organizations” by defending rights of conscience against the Affordable Care Act’s burdensome “contraceptive mandate.”

Advocates of human dignity were also heartened by his avowed opposition to the legalization of euthanasia. In 2009, Gorsuch wrote The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, in which he argued against the practice—beliefs he reaffirmed during his testimony before the committee. Regrettably, little is known regarding his legal opinion on abortion. “His record as a judge provides little direct evidence of his view” and Gorsuch was reluctant to entertain hypothetical scenarios or be drawn into speculation regarding potential cases during his hearings.

In general, confirmation hearings are hardly exciting. One of the most noteworthy elements of Judge Gorsuch’s hearings were his compelling answers to questions about the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. He also offered helpful summaries of the role of the judiciary as well as the proper function of government as prescribed by the Constitution.

Considering the bitter and contentious political climate, it is not surprising that Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), have threatened to filibuster Gorsuch’s confirmation vote despite his impeccable credentials and admirable performance before the Judiciary Committee. At present, the rules of the Senate require a 60-vote threshold to invoke cloture in order to break a filibuster and hold a vote. Republicans control only 52 seats in the Senate and would require the support of at least 8 Democrats in order to guarantee a confirmation vote on Judge Gorsuch without further procedural hurdles.

Successful nominees to the Supreme Court receive lifetime appointments. At just 49 years old, Gorsuch was the youngest candidate on President Trump’s short list. If confirmed, Judge Gorsuch is expected to exercise considerable influence upon the high court’s trajectory for decades.

Image Credit: Joe Ravi, Wikimedia Commons

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Josh Wester

Josh Wester is the director of operations at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and serves as a research assistant at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. A graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Th.M. student at Southeastern Seminary, Josh lives in Rocky Mount with his wife, McCaffity, and their son, Jackson.

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