Neil Gorsuch will be a defender of the rule of law and a worthy successor to Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a panel of prominent lawyers said Tuesday at The Heritage Foundation.
“I think that with this addition [of] Judge Gorsuch, we’ll see … a lot more pressure put on the Congress to do its job right, and on the courts to not be taken advantage of by the agencies,” C. Boyden Gray, a counselor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said during the panel discussion on Gorsuch’s judicial record.
President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch, a 49-year-old federal appeals judge, to fill the seat of Scalia, who died unexpectedly last February.
Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, an organization dedicated to advancing Judeo-Christian values in public policy, said Gorsuch would be an excellent successor.
“I think that Judge Gorsuch’s record shows him to be an eminently worthy successor to Justice Scalia, and that is about the highest praise I can offer,” Whelan said.
Also on the panel with Whelan and Gray, now a partner in the D.C. law firm Boyden Gray & Associates, was Michael Carvin of the D.C. law firm Jones Day, who praised Gorsuch’s attention to detail.
“This guy goes deep,” Carvin said. “Somebody makes a stupid argument … but [Gorsuch] will reframe it and say, ‘It has these consequences, and we must respectfully disagree.’ So he really goes down each rabbit hole and makes sure that his opinions reach the right result.”
Gorsuch currently is a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 10th Circuit includes the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, plus portions of Yellowstone National Park that extend into Montana and Idaho.
Whelan lauded the role Gorsuch played in the 10th Circuit’s ruling in the so-called Hobby Lobby case. The Oklahoma City-based retailer Hobby Lobby, owned by a Christian family, took issue with the Obamacare mandate forcing employers to cover contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization in employee health plans.
“There’s been a lot more focus on more … high-profile cases like Judge Gorsuch’s votes in Hobby Lobby,” Whelan said. “And those deserve attention, and I think he deserves credit for his votes there.”
Gorsuch was part of the 5-3 majority that ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. In his opinion supporting the retail chain, he wrote:
It is not for secular courts to rewrite the religious complaint of a faithful adherent, or to decide whether a religious teaching about complicity imposes ‘too much’ moral disapproval on those only ‘indirectly’ assisting wrongful conduct. Whether an act of complicity is or isn’t ‘too attenuated’ from the underlying wrong is sometimes itself a matter of faith we must respect.
Whelan said allegations that Gorsuch was simply voting to satisfy his personal beliefs are unfounded.
“Some on the other side have suggested that, ‘Oh, he was simply indulging his own personal preferences there in Hobby Lobby.’ Instead, I think what you see … is no, he is carefully scrutinizing the [case] and applying it neutrally,” Whelan said.
Gorsuch’s support for Hobby Lobby’s position, Whelan said, exemplifies his understanding of the balance between the law and the rights of those with deeply held religious beliefs.
“Judge Gorsuch fully understands the Supreme Court’s precedents, making clear that it is no business of the government to second-guess or try to redefine a person’s religious beliefs,” he said.
Conservatives in the Senate, where hearings on Gorsuch’s confirmation are set to begin March 20, emphasize this attribute.
Carvin highlighted Gorsuch’s leadership on a case where candidates for public office had to meet a bizarre set of requirements.
“[Gorsuch] had this kind of screwy case out of Colorado where … if you were Republican or Democrat, you had to have a primary even if you did not have a contestant,” Carvin said.
“If you were a minor party, you wouldn’t have a primary unless there was more than one candidate vying for the seat,” he said, adding:
They also had a campaign contribution limit which was $200 for the primary and $200 for the general [election], because the major parties always had primaries and the minor parties very rarely had primaries.
The case was significant, Carvin said, because Gorsuch ruled to do away with the “differential treatment of major and minor parties.”
“I think it shows … a sympathy for political speech [and] a recognition of how important this is under the Constitution.”
Just as Scalia has left a powerful legacy, Whelan said, Gorsuch could make a significant impact on the high court for generations to come.
“Like Justice Scalia, he is a brilliant jurist and dedicated originalist and textualist,” Whelan said. “Like Justice Scalia, he thinks through issues very deeply … and I think all of these talents promise to give him an outsize impact on future generations of lawyers and judges.” (For more from the author of “Supreme Court Watchers Hail Neil Gorsuch as a Judge Who ‘Goes Deep'” please click HERE)