He pushed us for research and didn’t bring preconceptions into the courtroom.
I am a moderate, like many Americans. I have more often than not voted for Democrats rather than Republicans, and I deeply believe our government has a necessary and active role in righting the many injustices present in our society and the world. But I can’t help wondering, are we asking the right questions about nominees to the Supreme Court?
Shortly after I posted an article supportive of Judge Neil Gorsuch on Facebook, I received queries and demands asking about his opinion on “LGBTQ rights, abortion, science over religion, climate change, gun control,” among other pressing social issues. One commenter vented frustration that despite having read numerous articles about Gorsuch, he could not find specifics on his views.
Although I worked closely with Gorsuch for a year as one of his law clerks, and spent social hours with the judge, his family and other clerks, I also struggled to come up with an answer. And then I smiled because I realized the judge lives by the principle that “justice is blind.” He did not bring preconceived positions on social issues into the courtroom. Rather, he pushed us to thoroughly research all sides of each case that came through his chambers.
From personal experience, I can add that the judge deliberately sought clerks with diverse perspectives and encouraged open debates to reach the best conclusion. I recall one such experience in particular where my co-clerk and I were at odds on a legal issue in a case. The judge indicated that he was more persuaded by my colleague but rather than rejecting my position outright, he challenged me — “prove to me you are right.” Several hours and many coffees later, I came back with the best I had. And this time he agreed.
The judge’s commitment to being objective and deliberating on all issues before him is further demonstrated by the support he has received from his left-leaning colleagues who have worked with him. These respected liberal colleagues specifically note his commitment to understanding the diverse perspectives on an issue, and his collegiality.
As a culture, our obsessive focus on the political views of a potential Supreme Court Justice may be reflecting back towards us some key information about what’s really going on. Namely, that despite having democratically elected representatives at the local, state and national levels, whose duty it is to address our social concerns, we nevertheless feel disenfranchised from the current political process. It is the job of legislators to faithfully make laws that better society and we must hold them to account if this duty is not being adequately fulfilled.
On the other hand, the role of the judiciary is quite different but critically complementary in a democracy. Legislators cannot be expected to always take into account the minority view in a culture. Although the minority may participate in the political process, because their views are not held by the mainstream, they run the risk of being trampled. Our political and legal systems are designed to protect the core rights and freedoms of all peoples. This is the beauty of our constitutional system and a principal reason that it is emulated the world over: Our system preserves the essential liberties of all, no matter how unpopular their views are and even if others are more powerful.
This is the great contribution of the judiciary. It does not create policies or agree with the politics of the current progressive majority in society. It does preserve and protect as inviolate the core rights enshrined in our Constitution so that no one may be deprived of them — among them our rights to freedom of religion, to liberty, to self-determination and self-expression.
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It is with this view in mind that we should be critically evaluating Judge Gorsuch and asking whether he can be faithfully counted upon to defend the core rights contained in the Constitution despite the prevailing popular sentiment. The testimonies of those who have worked with him and his judicial record are a unanimous yes. By way of example, the judge has ruled in support of rights to religious freedoms (Hobby Lobby Stores) and to privacy (United States v. Carloss).
The judge also takes seriously the solemn duty of applying the law with rigor. Soon after he took the bench on the 10th Circuit, he took all of his clerks and office staff (myself included) to visit several federal prisons. He wanted to see for himself, and for us to all understand, the importance of applying justice in every case — for the lives of others depended on us doing the best job we possibly could. Judge Gorsuch is a sincere, humble and devoted steward of the law who has a demonstrated record of faithfully upholding our constitutional rights. He deserves our support.
Jessica Greenstone clerked for Judge Neil M. Gorsuch of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit from 2006 to 2007. She currently serves as World Wildlife Fund South Africa’s Marine Science & Policy Lead.
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