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Neil Gorsuch Confirmed, So Who is Our Newest Supreme Court Justice?

Julia Grady
It isn't 4 years, it's a lifetime appointment. Issues matter.

On July 7, 2017, more than a year after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Senate voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The Democrats filibustered like crazy trying to prevent it, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mcconnell led the GOP to victory. McConnell raised a point of order that basically said, “let’s make it wayyyy easier for Gorsuch to get confirmed.” The point of order was approved, Gorsuch was confirmed, and here we are. So, who is this guy?

Gorsuch is a smart judge. He attended Columbia, Oxford, and Harvard Law School, and he is one of the youngest Supreme Court nominees at the age of 49. Gorsuch’s major selling point was his decade-long experience as a judge for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. In order to understand what is at stake now that Gorsuch has been confirmed, let’s get familiar with his stances on key issues.

Religion

Gorsuch’s most high-profile case involved a chain of retail stores called Hobby Lobby. According to the law, the corporation’s female workers were entitled to birth control coverage through health care that Hobby Lobby provided. Pretty reasonable. Hobby Lobby didn’t think so, mostly because the owners were very religious. They appealed to Gorsuch’s court, arguing that they had a right not to provide birth control coverage if it went against their faith.

Gorsuch argued in favor of Hobby Lobby, affirming that they did not need to provide birth control coverage if it “violated their faith.” The decision gives us insight into Gorsuch’s willingness to use religion as a factor in his decision-making process. This gets tricky when thinking about the extent to which this view can be held in relation to corporation rights.

All this religion talk makes us think of abortion.

Abortion

During hearings, Democrats fought hard to uncover Gorsuch’s opinions on abortion. A clear stance was not revealed; however, when Gorsuch was asked if Trump had requested Gorsuch to overturn Roe v Wade, Gorsuch responded that “he would have walked out the door.” If anything, this quote tells us that Gorsuch has a decent moral compass, and isn’t willing to take orders from Trump.

Gorsuch said that “a good judge will consider [Roe v Wade] as precedent of the United States Supreme Court, worthy as treatment of precedent as any other.” This tells us that Gorsuch values precedent, but it is still possible that he is interested in reversing the decision. TBD on whether this guy wants to grant women with the right to choose. We hope so.

TBD on whether this guy wants to grant women with the right to choose. We hope so.

Police Force

In 2013, when a drug suspect reached into his pocket while running away from police officers, an officer tased and killed the suspect. When the family of the suspect sued the police officer, Gorsuch ruled in favor of the officer. He maintained police use of force, stating that “a reasonable officer need not await the glint of steel before taking self-protective action.”

This quote is unsettling when we consider the deaths that have resulted from “self-protective action” by police officers. We can only hope that Gorsuch understands the problematic nature of police force when considering the lives of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and so many others who were killed by police officers.

Immigration

Gorsuch’s immigration rulings have been inconsistent. In one case, he ruled in favor of a Somalian immigrant accused of lying under oath, sympathizing that the immigrant should have had access to an interpreter. However, in another case that involved Mexican immigrants fighting against deportation in the interest of their teenage children, Gorsuch ruled against the immigrants, stating that he didn’t have the jurisdiction to consider an appeal.

At this point, we’re still left guessing Gorsuch’s views on immigration. One thing we do know is that Gorsuch doesn’t always sway to the right. When Trump criticized the judiciary for questioning the legality of his travel ban, Gorsuch called Trump’s comments “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” Once again, it’s a good sign that Gorsuch isn’t boundlessly loyal to Trump.

Climate change

Trump doesn’t believe in climate change. In 2012, he said that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He recently signed an executive order that would reverse all of Obama’s climate change progress, including the Clean Power Plan. For an administration that wouldn’t mind destroying the Earth, Gorsuch could be crucial or catastrophic.

Gorsuch hasn’t had much experience with environmental cases. In 2015, he upheld a measure in Colorado that required renewable sources for power generation. This is good – so he understands the necessity for environmental protection.

Gorsuch is vehemently against the Chevron deference, which allows federal agency experts to interpret laws if the laws are unclear, complicated, or vague to the judges. This applies to many judicial cases; however, in the case of climate change, it is especially relevant. Gorsuch’s opposition with Chevron means he thinks that judges should have more power than scientists or environmentalist experts when it comes to climate change. From the climate change perspective, disagreement with the Chevron deference is problematic. However, Gorsuch’s view doesn’t necessarily mean he is in favor of Trump’s climate change executive order.

Gorsuch is a hard guy to pin down. His decisions reflect a Conservative, but one who is free-thinking and willing to defy traditional ideology if the case demands it. We do know that he is a strict interpreter of the Constitution, stating that it is “the greatest charter of human liberty the world has ever known.” This often gets tricky, because society has changed considerably since the founding fathers created the Constitution. Let’s just hope that Gorsuch doesn’t view America as it was in 1787.

Cover image via CNN.