Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first year was exactly what conservatives hoped


Conservatives have long worried that judges, once sworn in as a justice on the Supreme Court, will move to the left over time. Thomas Sowell called this the “Greenhouse effect”, after former New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse, because conservative justices submit to the pressure of unfavorable coverage from major media outlets. But Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first year on the Supreme Court bench shows that conservatives can exhale and be reassured that he has not shown any signs of shifting away from his (and our) commitment to Constitutional originalism.

{mosads}In Gorsuch, President Donald Trump nominated a qualified and experienced judge with a demonstrated respect for the Constitution. In fact, when Gorsuch was nominated for his previous role on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006, his qualifications were so obvious that his hearing took just 20 minutes and the Senate confirmed him by unanimous consent.

Throughout his career, Gorsuch earned a reputation as an originalist and a textualist. His philosophy is clear in one of his written opinions during his tenure on the 10th Circuit, where he explained that a judge’s proper role is “to apply, not rewrite, the law enacted by the people’s representatives. Indeed, a judge who likes every result he reaches is very likely a bad judge, reaching for results he prefers rather than those the law compels.”

Since his confirmation, Gorsuch’s written opinions and oral arguments show that he has remained true to these views.

A remarkable example of Justice Gorsuch’s keen attention to the text of the Constitution came during oral arguments for the so-called “partisan gerrymandering” case Gill V. Whitford, in which the Court is being asked to intervene in the redistricting plan enacted by Wisconsin’s state legislature. Justice Gorsuch playfully suggested that “maybe we can just for a second talk about the arcane matter, the Constitution.”

He observed that in several instances, “the Constitution authorizes the federal government to step in on state legislative matters.” Short of such clear “textual indications,” Justice Gorsuch suggested that “maybe we ought to be cautious about stepping in here.” His focus on the clear meaning of the Constitution is an encouraging sign of his impartiality, and an indication that he — unlike too many other justices nominated by Republican presidents — is unlikely to legislate from the bench.

Gorsuch also wrote critically of extra-constitutional assertions of power by federal agencies. When the Court declined to hear a case regarding the presumption of authority asserted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Gorsuch dissented. He based his disagreement on a simple textual question: Although courts grant government agencies presumption of competence, “where does this presumption come from? It enjoys no apparent provenance in the relevant statutes.” For the new justice, that lack of statutory support made the question “worthy of this Court’s attention.”

Gorsuch’s genuine conservatism, his faithfulness to the original public meaning of the Constitution and legal texts, is also demonstrated by his joining with Justice Clarence Thomas in all but three of the cases decided by the Court. That should be good news for any conservative court watcher.

Gorsuch’s work on the Supreme Court shows is consistent with his thinking during his previous role as an appellate judge and shows the strength of his principles. As a circuit judge, Gorsuch wrote that the Constitution “isn’t some inkblot on which litigants may project their hopes and dreams,” but rather “a carefully drafted text judges are charged with applying according to its original public meaning.” Gorsuch’s body of work shows that he understands the duty of a judge is to interpret the Constitution and the law as they are written, not to warp their meaning in order to advance their own personal agenda.

As a candidate for president, Donald Trump promised the American people that he would appoint fair and independent justices to the nation’s highest court. Gorsuch’s oral arguments and written opinions demonstrate that he is that promised justice. That’s not only a victory for President Trump — who delivered a core campaign promise — but for the American people, who made it clear that this promise was important to them.

Justice Gorsuch should be congratulated for his brilliant first year on the Court. I wish him many more.

Cleta Mitchell is a political law attorney in Washington, D.C. She has served as legal counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Follow Mitchell on Twitter @CletaMitchell.

Tags Clarence Thomas Conservatism in the United States Donald Trump Gorsuch Neil Gorsuch Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court nomination Originalism Politics of the United States Supreme Court of the United States United States courts of appeals

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