The Judiciary

A Justice Gorsuch will defend religious liberty

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The four days of  hearings for President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch. reveal that he is a strong choice, and confirming him will be a good thing for protecting religious freedom for people of all faiths. Here are three reasons why.

Judge Gorsuch’s credentials are impeccable. 

{mosads}The individual who fills the Supreme Court vacancy will be responsible for deciding cases of great import to religious liberty, as well as other fundamental rights, in the coming decades, and must obviously be qualified both in wisdom and in temperament to do so. It is impossible to argue with Judge Gorsuch’s credentials. He has earned degrees from Columbia University, Harvard Law School, and Oxford University. He was a Truman Scholar, a Marshall Scholar, and he has the distinction of having clerked for two Supreme Court Justices.


Judge Gorsuch has also received strong praise from his classmates, peers, and colleagues. Becket Board Member and Princeton Professor, Dr. Robert P. George, says that his “combination of outstanding intellectual and personal qualities places him in the top rank of American jurists.” Eugene Volokh, a professor at UCLA School of Law, lauds him as “brilliant, thoughtful and temperate.” And Neal Katyal, who served as an acting Solicitor General under President Obama, hails Judge Gorsuch as “an extraordinary judge and man.”

He has bipartisan support—and religious freedom should never be partisan.

Judge Gorsuch was unanimously confirmed by the Senate—including now-Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—to his current seat on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Both of Colorado’s senators at the time, Wayne Allard (R) and Ken Salazar (D), strongly supported his nomination. The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary also gave Judge Gorsuch their highest qualification rating—a rating it reaffirmed just last week. Such high levels of bipartisan support indicate that Judge Gorsuch has the ability and virtue to put the law first, not politics. We need this now more than ever, especially when religious liberty is before the Court.

As our nation continues to become more pluralistic, it is more important than ever that judges exercise integrity in how they protect religious freedom. Judge Gorsuch has shown he will rise above partisan bickering to consider each individual case on its facts, rather than on the emotional public debates that often swirl around it.

He understands RFRA and RLUIPA, two laws particularly crucial to protecting religious liberty for minority faith groups.

Congress has passed two pieces of legislation protecting religious freedom with overwhelming bipartisan support: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). These laws strike a sensible balance so no American—particularly those who are politically unpopular—can be unnecessarily forced by the government to violate their faith. These laws have been pivotal in protecting religious freedom for individuals of many faiths, including Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, and Native Americans.

The balance required by these laws is put in the hands of judges, and so it is crucial that any Supreme Court nominee demonstrate a knowledge of how they function. Judge Gorsuch’s reasoned and thorough understanding of RFRA and RLUIPA has been well documented and is vividly demonstrated in hisYellowbear v. Lampert decision that protected a Native American man’s right to practice his faith while in prison. Justice Sotomayor later cited Yellowbear in her concurring opinion in Becket’s case, Holt v. Hobbs, a unanimous 2015 decision from the Supreme Court that protected the right of a Muslim prisoner to grow a beard.

Judge Gorsuch also participated in two landmark RFRA cases: Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. The Supreme Court later ruled consistently with Judge Gorsuch’s positions in both cases. 

While some have tried to portray Judge Gorsuch’s protection of the Little Sisters and the Green family as anti-woman, in reality, the government’s own concessions in Little Sisters betray wild accusations that protecting religious freedom came at the cost of women’s rights. The government essentially admitted that it was possible both to advance its goal of covering contraception and to do so without coercing religious objectors to participate—it had simply refused to employ alternatives.

These concessions resulted in a unanimous decision from the Supreme Court. While many lower courts were too quick to defer to the government, Judge Gorsuch had the insight to see what other intelligent judges missed.

Statutes like RFRA and RLUIPA require balancing the specific facts in each case. Future cases will require the same balancing and may result in different outcomes—indeed, Judge Gorsuch has not always sided with the religious claim. He has proven his trustworthiness to bear this responsibility.

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right for people of all faiths, not a partisan wedge issue, and Judge Gorsuch’s record proves that he will defend the integrity this right for everyone. Protecting religious freedom for all protects diversity. There are plenty of meaningful issues to debate in our country right now, but Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation is something people of all political backgrounds can—and should do. 

Amy Vitale is a fellow at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit that defends the liberty of faithful Americans.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court

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