In January, President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, according to the Washington Post. The question of who would fill the court’s vacancy was a central issue in the 2016 presidential election. Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge from Colorado, was appointed by President George W. Bush.
Emory & Henry Professor of Political Science Joseph Lane was familiar with Gorsuch before he was nominated for the court, and says the judge has been a popular choice for a while. For one thing, Gorsuch is “young and seems like someone who might serve on the court for a long period of time.” According to Lane, he’s also “considered among the more deliberate but very conservative circuit court of appeals justices out there.”
While known to fall in line with conservative thought, Lane says that Gorsuch “is not somebody who’s considered to be a political flamethrower, [or] whose opinions are overly politicized or obviously caustic in the same way that sometimes Justice Thomas’s opinions are thought to be.”
Gorsuch’s track record suggests that he will lean conservative on religious freedom issues. Among Gorsuch’s most prominent cases, according to CNN, was Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius. In that case, Gorsuch held “that federal law prohibited … requiring closely-held, for-profit secular corporations to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their employer-sponsored health insurance plans.” In Yellowbear v. Lampert, Gorsuch defended a Native American prison inmate who had been barred from visiting his place of worship.
Lane says Gorsuch takes an originalist view of the Constitution, interpreting the law according to the perceived intention of the founders. This includes a somewhat frosty attitude towards executive power. In Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, Gorsuch held that courts need not defer to administrative agencies when interpreting ambiguities in the law.
On the other hand, Lane says, “there are a lot of cases where we don’t know necessarily where Neil Gorsuch would rule because he’s never been asked those questions before.” For instance, Gorsuch’s stance on abortion is still unknown. However, “given the solicitude [Gorsuch has] shown for more conservative Christian beliefs,” and his opposition to euthanasia (he wrote a book on the topic, expanding on his doctoral dissertation at Oxford), Lane suspects Gorsuch will not disappoint anti-abortion activists.
According to the New York Times, Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing has been set for March 20. While Republicans constitute a majority in the Senate, they will still need several Democrat votes to successfully confirm Gorsuch.
– Hannah Long