Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch shares his judicial philosophies during U of L talk

09/21/2017 05:28 PM

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch offered himself as a practitioner of “originalism” when interpreting the Constitution during a speech at the University of Louisville Thursday, calling it a “tried and true” method of deciding legal cases while also presenting it as “the least-worst option” available to the judiciary.

Gorsuch, who was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, came to U of L as part of the McConnell Center’s Distinguished Speakers Series.

The newly minted Supreme Court justice gave the packed auditorium at Comstock Hall a glimpse of his judicial philosophy as well as his first days as a member of the country’s highest court.

Gorsuch was confirmed to the lifetime appointment by the Senate in April, during which McConnell invoked the so-called “nuclear option” and allowed the upper chamber to confirm Gorsuch with a simple majority rather than the 60-vote threshold needed for previous Supreme Court nominees.

McConnell has touted Gorsuch’s appointment and confirmation as an early victory of President Donald Trump’s administration and his decision to keep President Barack Obama’s nominee for the post, Merrick Garland, from confirmation as pivotal to Trump’s victory in 2016.

While he focused his remarks mostly on the framers of the Constitution and how he believes judges should interpret the document when ruling in cases, Gorsuch offered a few personal anecdotes of his short tenure with the Supreme Court.

He noted that he received a mounted trophy elk that belonged to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Gorsuch replaced on the high court, not long after his confirmation, and he saw some similarities between him and “Leroy” the elk: They were both from Colorado, they both will never forget Scalia, they both will spend the rest of their days on display in the Supreme Court and they both “received a rather shocking summons to Washington, D.C.”

Gorsuch also highlighted the two portraits that hang in his office. One, of former Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, reminds him of the judicial oath and how equal justice should be granted to all while the other, of President James Madison, reminds him of the constitutional oath he took given Madison’s prominence in drafting the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and, about 200 years after he conceived it, the 27th Amendment that bars Congress from enacting pay raises or cuts until the next House of Representatives takes office.

When speaking about the founders, Gorsuch expounded on his beliefs in the separation of powers and “originalism” when interpreting the Constitution.

Any period of judicial work, he said, should involve picking up “the baton from our founders and respect the separation of powers they adopted.”

“If originalism is rejected, I worry we will risk licensing judges to rule based on what they think the law should mean, not what it does mean,” Gorsuch said.

“What if we allow judges to act as legislators?” he continued. “Unconstrained by the arduous processes that were prescribed for new legislation in Article I, the judge would need only his vote, or maybe those of a few colleagues, to rewrite the law to meet his preferences. The paths to making new laws would become easier.”

Without such a separation of legislative and judicial powers, Gorsuch said “democracy itself” would be undermined.

Gorsuch conceded that his originalist view isn’t perfect, but he said it represents “the least-worst option” for judges, who must apply “new facts” to cases “just as the court has since its founding.”

Even though McConnell has evoked Gorsuch’s name time and again in political settings, there was no talk of politics Thursday. Gorsuch said he believed in “the good and faithful judge” who operates without a political filter.

“I do not believe in red judges or blue judges,” he said. “We wear black.”

Reporters were barred from filming Gorsuch’s comments, and he was not made available for questions after his remarks.


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