What Trump’s SCOTUS pick means for people of faith

President Donald Trump shakes hands with 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch, his choice for Supreme Court Justices in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Donald J. Trump announced his nominee for the Supreme Court on Tuesday night, picking Neil Gorsuch, a federal judge in Colorado appointed by George W. Bush.

Mr. Gorsuch attends an Episcopal church in Boulder, where he was listed on the church website as an usher during a service earlier this month. The church, St. John’s, describes itself as a “inclusive, Christ-centered community.”

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If he is confirmed, Mr. Gorsuch will be the only Protestant on the court, currently comprised of five Catholic and three Jewish justices.

Mr. Gorsuch, who attended the Jesuit-run Georgetown Preparatory School in Washington, appeals to conservatives because of his views on religious liberty and life issues. He has not ruled on major abortion cases, but Mr. Gorsuch wrote a book in 2009 that lays out a case against the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

“All human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong,” he wrote in The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.

On the religious liberty front, Mr. Gorsuch sided with both Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor in clashes with the Obama administration about provisions of the Affordable Care Act that they argued violated their religious freedom.

In another religious liberty case, the judge also ruled that a Native American prisoner must be allowed access to a sweat lodge, according to the National Review.

He has written that the religious freedom laws must be interpreted broadly to include more than the freedom to worship.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he wrote, “doesn’t just apply to protect popular religious beliefs: it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.”

At SCOTUSBlog, Eric Cintron wrote, “Gorsuch has shown himself to be an ardent defender of religious liberties and pluralistic accommodations for religious adherents.”

Mr. Cintron also notes that the judge’s past rulings suggest that he is comfortable with public displays of religion and that “he would be a natural successor to Scalia in adopting a pro-religion conception of the establishment clause.”

Addressing the March for Life last week in Washington, Vice President Mike Pence promised a nominee “who will uphold the God-given liberties enshrined in our Constitution in the tradition of the late and great Justice Antonin Scalia,” a favorite among Catholic conservatives.

Robert Barnes, a Supreme Court reporter for The Washington Post, wrote that Mr. Gorsuch fulfills that promise.

“Like Scalia, Gorsuch is a proponent of originalism—meaning that judges should attempt to interpret the words of the Constitution as they were understood at the time they were written—and a textualist who considers only the words of the law being reviewed, not legislators’ intent or the consequences of the decision,” he wrote.

During his speech announcing Mr. Gorsuch’s nomination, Mr. Trump said that “millions of voters said this was the single most important issue to them when they voted for me for president.”

That sentiment was echoed in a statement released Wednesday morning by Joseph Cella, the organizer of a group of Catholics who had advised the Trump campaign.


“During the presidential campaign, the Catholic Advisory Group highlighted Supreme Court nominations as one of the issues of greatest importance to Catholics,” the statement read. “Ultimately, this particular issue was a determining factor in President Trump’s winning a solid majority of support among Catholics who were seeking a worthy successor to the late Justice Antonin Scalia. We could not have asked for a better selection for our nation's highest court than Judge Gorsuch.”

The White House had originally planned to announce the pick on Thursday, the same day as the National Prayer Breakfast. The announcement was moved up over the weekend when thousands of demonstrators headed to U.S. airports to protest the administration’s rules that temporarily halt all refugee resettlement in the United States.

There has been a vacant seat on the Supreme Court since last February when Justice Antonin Scalia died. Former President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the spot last March, but Senate Republicans refused to hold hearings.

David Lat, editor of the legal website Above the Law, told The Denver Post that he expects Mr. Gorsuch to be confirmed. “He has grabbed every brass ring,” he said. “He’s brilliant, conservative and impossible to oppose. That’s a deadly combination for Democrats.”

This story includes updates.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Henry George
9 months 3 weeks ago

I would hope, as far as I understand, Judge Gorsuch would be confirmed.
Perhaps Trump can throw the Democrats an Olive Branch by offering to
nominate Merrick Garland when Justice Kennedy retires.

Derrick Weiller
9 months 3 weeks ago

A terrific proposal, Henry.

Tim O'Leary
9 months 3 weeks ago

A very bad idea, Henry. The court is already way too far against the rights to life. Perhaps, if Ginsberg and Kennedy retire together, he could put forward William Pryor and offer Garland if Pryor gets approved, as part of the deal.

Henry George
9 months 3 weeks ago

Tim,
Hard to see how Pryor, though I respect his view that Roe vs Wade is a terrible judgement, would be approved.
The Senate may be controlled by the Democrats in less than two years.

Henry George
9 months 3 weeks ago

Tim,
Hard to see how Pryor, though I respect his view that Roe vs Wade is a terrible judgement, would be approved.
The Senate may be controlled by the Democrats in less than two years.

Lisa Weber
9 months 3 weeks ago

Thank you for a good idea. I would hope to see an end to governance by war amongst ourselves.

Vincent Gaglione
9 months 3 weeks ago

Is there anything about a Jesuit high school education that helps foster the originalist and strict constructionist viewpoints of a Scalia and a Gorsuch?

Tim O'Leary
9 months 3 weeks ago

Not sure about the Jesuit part, but a Catholic education should help one to understand the importance of truth, the natural law and the dangers of reading one's own desires into texts.

E.Patrick Mosman
9 months 3 weeks ago

"appeals to conservatives because of his views on religious liberty and life issues."
Judge Gorsuch's appeal to conservatives is much broader and deeper than his views on religious and life matters as he is an originalist in the same mold as Scalia.
Judges of his judicial thinking are greatly needed to offset at least one of the current sitting Justices who spoke about the influences on her thinking and decision making, certainly, not a Constitutionalist.

Here are quotes from a sitting Scotus Judge :
- “Yet, because I accept the proposition that... "to judge is an exercise of power" and because... "there is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives-no neutrality, no escape from choice in judging," ….
- I further accept that..... experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions.
- The aspiration to impartiality is just that--it's an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others.
- enough people of color in enough cases, will make a difference in the process of judging.
-Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences… our gender and national origins will make a difference in our judging.
-Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see.
-I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.” End quotes.
"A Latina Judge's Voice" -- an address by Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Source: Berkeley La Raza Law Journal Volume 13 Number 1 (2002) Symposium 2002

judson crump
9 months 3 weeks ago

Not to rain on the pro-life parade, because I am hopeful that Gorsuch will be willing to curtail or overturn Roe v Wade should the chance arise, but I feel the need to make it clear that there are some very real reasons not to be too excited about Judge Gorsuch.

As a consumer rights lawyer, I regularly represent workers, the poor, and consumers - in other words, the people that the legal system is most stacked against by legislators and, unfortunately, judges, who use their power to benefit the rich and the powerful. Gorsuch is just such a judge. His decisions on labor and employment issues, consumer rights, and access to the civil justice system (whether by enforcing Rumplestiltskinesque contracts-of-adhesion or contractual class action bans) are decidedly pro-business and anti consumer.

While it is impossible to tell how a judge may rule in future cases, his track record is one that doesn't give much hope to those of us on the front lines of a struggle to reform our justice system in a way that makes it more fair to the poor and the weak. This is a struggle we have been losing for years. Our supreme court has been relatively conservative since the late 1970s, and the legal rights of workers and consumers have been steadily eroded since then. But somehow Roe v. Wade survives.

So sure, we can be hopeful that Gorsuch may somehow, eventually, possibly lend a hand in overturning Roe v. Wade, but if history is any guide, this seems a remote hope at best. While the increasing lopsidedness of our legal system seems a virtual certainty.

Henry George
9 months 3 weeks ago

Judson,
Thank you.
Sadly the Consumer seems to have less rights than trees and ponds in our legal system.

Emmett Burke
9 months 3 weeks ago

While being a conservative catholic, I abhore Scalia's decisons. Among his many decisions that have hurt us, the worst was his sole decision to stop the recount in Florida and give the presidency over to George W Bush. Which in turn gave us the nonchalant concern over terrorists in the US and hence 9/11 and then the totally unnecessary Iraq invasion and more than a trillion in costs plus untold suffering. The preponderance of Scalia's decisions are pro business, pro corporate, and anti environment. I don't think that being pro life is the sole criterion for a judge, which unfortunately this article conveys. It would have been better if there had been a balance in the analysis of the impact of Scalia's decisions on our ability to live christian lives. We need to better understand the full spectrum of how Gorsuch might vote. And then there is the issue of how Democrats should handle the unconstitutional shutout by the Repbulicans of Obama's last nominee. Unfortunately the Gorsuch nomination will be in that shadow.

E.Patrick Mosman
9 months 3 weeks ago

"Among his many decisions that have hurt us, the worst was his sole decision to stop the recount in Florida and give the presidency over to George W Bush. "
Perhaps the following article from the NY Times will provide the necessary
information allow you to ask for forgiveness and offer an apology to the memory of Justice Scalia for
spreading false information about Bush/Gore election which Bush won fair and square.
Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote
By FORD FESSENDEN and JOHN M. BRODER
Published: November 12, 2001
"A comprehensive review of the uncounted Florida ballots from last year's presidential election reveals that George W. Bush would have won even if the United States Supreme Court had allowed the statewide manual recount of the votes that the Florida Supreme Court had ordered to go forward."
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/12/politics/12VOTE.html?pagewanted=all

Can one assume that rest of your charges are as poorly researched as the above?

Tim O'Leary
9 months 3 weeks ago

While no one can be sure how Judge Gorsuch will come down on specific cases, his background and past rulings and writings are very impressive. His statement that "A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge" is a fitting response to those critics who want to judge a judge by the outcome of a decision, not by the truth of the law. Like Scalia, he believes it is not the role of a judge/justice to determine a ruling based on the likely outcome, but to determine it on what the law actually says. If all nine justices held this view, so much bad law, including Roe v. Wade and the destruction of marriage laws would never have occurred.

Vince Killoran
9 months 3 weeks ago

The rights of labor? The environment? LGBTQ rights? Civil rights? There is much more to consider for people of faith.

Michael Barberi
9 months 3 weeks ago

Vince,

It is the Constitution that all Justices must be faithful to (no pun intended) when it comes to issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. This does not mean that a Justice is not influenced by his faith, in whole or in part. Nevertheless, it is the Constitution that governs all laws, not whether a law is moral or immoral according to a specific religion. Unfortunately, what constitutes 'moral or immoral' varies by religion. I would like to see the SCOTUS consider when a fetus becomes a person with rights in accordance with the Constitution. This is highly speculative and at the present time scientific and moral experts differ on this point.

Michael Barberi
9 months 3 weeks ago

A great pick for the next Justice of the SCOTUS and for people of faith. Judge Gorsuch will most likely replace Scalia, but only after a cantankerous confirmation process. Let's pray that Trump will have the opportunity to nominate other Justices in the near future.

Lisa Weber
9 months 3 weeks ago

The last paragraph displays a monumental error in thinking by saying, "That's a deadly combination for Democrats." I am late to being active in politics. I have voted for years, but only became interested and active politically with this past campaign because we now have a dangerous and incompetent man in the White House. A big part of our problem is seeing politics only as a battle, us against them. I am not well-informed about Neil Gorsuch, but I do like his stance against euthanasia. Roe vs. Wade is, in some respects, irrelevant because abortion has been around forever and will be around forever. The only thing we are talking about in the abortion debate is whether it should be legal.

I expect that Mr. Gorsuch will be confirmed. I am a Democrat and have no great objection to that. Much of the reason I am a Democrat is that the Republican party refused to take part in governing during President Obama's time in office. The Republicans may be doing a victory dance around their campfire now, but it will not serve them well in the future.

Michael Barberi
9 months 3 weeks ago

Lisa,

I am not a Republican, nor a Democrat and I did not vote for Trump or Clinton because both were very flawed candidates. I am an Independent who likes some Democratic principles and some Republican principles. Nevertheless, while you may be right that Republicans refused to take part in governing during President Obama's time in office, Democrats will refuse to take part in governing during President Trump's time.

Unfortunately, this is what's wrong with Washington and the reason, like it or not, that Trump was elected. I will judge him incrementally, not by his rhetoric (which is not something I like), but by the policies that eventually get implemented. In this regard, nominating Neil Gorsuch to the SCOTUS is a good start.

ALFRED CHAVEZ
9 months 3 weeks ago

It's ironic that in choosing Judge Gorsuch, a man with impeccable credentials, President Trump gave Catholics (and I wouldn't describe myself as a conservative) both a man with a respect for human life and religious liberty as well as a strong voice in a branch of the government that can constrain an executive from unconstitutional excesses.

Rosemary McHugh
9 months 3 weeks ago

It is interesting to me that the Supreme Court nominee was a Catholic and has become an Episcopalian now. As a Catholic and as a physician, I hope his change from the Catholic religion has been due to what he has learned of the coverups of the rapes of children by the popes and bishops over many years, which puts innocent children at risk of being sexually abused by sexual predators who have found a safe haven in the Catholic Church? He certainly does not want his children to be exposed to this.
Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, MD, MSpir

Tim O'Leary
9 months 3 weeks ago

It is so disappointing to see a bigoted anti-Catholic smear brought into this debate. First, anyone who welcomes someone leaving the Catholic Church can hardly believe what Catholics believe or wishes ill on the person leaving it. But, I have not seen any evidence Neil Gorsuch was ever a Catholic, even though he went to Georgetown Prep High School (his mother divorced when he was there).

Second, it has been well documented that clergy abuse and cover-up was at least as common in other religions, and even more common in secular institutions (like the Californian and New York public school systems and colleges). Here is an article from the NYT (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/13/us/abuse-by-clergy-is-not-just-a-cath…). The Episcopal Church has belatedly admitted its own problem and has instituted Catholic-like reforms themselves.

Third, even the Huffington Post had the following statement: "The Catholic Church may be the safest place for children. Whatever its past record, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has made unparalleled strides in educating their flock about child sexual abuse and ensuring that children are safe in Catholic environments. Over the past 10 years, Catholic parishes have trained more than 2.1 million clergy, employees, and volunteers about how to create safe environments and prevent child sexual abuse. More than 5.2 million children have also been taught to protect themselves, and churches have run criminal background checks on more than 2 million volunteers, employees, educators, clerics and seminarians. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/07/catholic-sex-abuse-reforms_n_1…. The same article discusses problems in Protestant and Jewish faiths and the Boy Scouts of America.

Michael Barberi
9 months 3 weeks ago

Rosemary,

We are not certain if Neil Gorsuch was a Catholic before he became an Episcopalian. More importantly, why would his reason for leaving the Catholic Church (CC) be important? Can a non-Catholic faithful Christian, who would become a Justice of the US Supreme Court, be good for people of faith? Equally important, why is it your 'hope' that Neil Gorsuch left the CC because of the clergy sex scandal? Such a 'hope' is a superfluous and specious argument and not relevant to the question: Is Neil Gorsuch good for people of faith? If your underlying message is that a non-Catholic Christian would be a better Justice of the SCOTUS than a Catholic, then I am perplexed how you would arrive at such a conclusion.

In my opinion, Neil Gorsuch seems to be on the right side of many moral issues that are important to most Catholics and Christians While I might not agree with Mr. Gorsuch on every moral issue, he seems to be someone that we should applaud as a nominee to the US Supreme Court.

Kester Ratcliff
9 months 3 weeks ago

A strangely optimistic perspective on Gorsuch.

Referring to his time in Georgetown as Catholic-friendly credentials doesn't work because he clashed and opposed the Jesuits' moral-political views continuously.

In fact, he founded and maintained a school club called "Fascism Forever", to oppose what he saw as the professors' "liberal bias".

Don't believe me, read it on the most far right newspaper we have in the UK: http://archive.is/FBzCn

He's also said that gay people should be criminalised and imprisoned again. That is not a pro- human dignity position.

Please stop calling hate campaigning against LGBTQ people "religious liberty".

A 'misuse of a freedom' is the definition of sin. There should be reasonable and universally just constraints and limits on freedom of speech, including freedom of religious expression.

Mis-using freedom of expression, including religious expression, to scapegoat people in preparation for persecution and violence, is not a legitimate use of freedom.

The Church can teach that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered", but many things in the world and in our lives are disordered, but we don't pick on most of those to create scapegoats to use to relieve internal social conflicts.

Church teaching is very clear: homosexuality may be in some sense "disordered" (I am not convinced, and this is certainly not one of the "doctrines essential to salvation" that I assented to at Confirmation), in that it cannot directly lead to procreating and being infinitely open to new life (however, adoption is an openness to a new life and arguably more altruistic than procreating one's own offspring), but *much more importantly* all human beings, whatever our disordered affections may be, are made in the image of God and must be respected accordingly, without exception. And that is not a matter of opinion, that is natural and divine justice. (For an explanation of how intrinsic human dignity is a matter of natural justice, see Emmanuel Levinas, 'Totality and Infinity: an essay on exteriority', 1971.)

"Religious liberty" campaigning is disingenuously named, as it is clearly not really motivated or functionally *is* a defence of the principle of being infinitely open to new life, out of a deep respect for others and for the sacredness of life. It's just a form of scapegoating, as Rene Girard explained (http://www.iep.utm.edu/girard/#H3).

Tim O'Leary
9 months 3 weeks ago

Kester - you have a very low opinion of religious liberty. This is very short-term thinking, against your own long-term interests. The constitution's first amendment gives it the highest rank, and rightly so. So does the Catechism. What religious people want is the ability to follow their religion's teaching to the best of their ability and according to their conscience. They want this because they believe their eternal life depends on it. So, no matter how much you hate them, and want to marginalize them because of their faith, it won't change their behavior. The stakes are too high. Freedom of religion goes hand-in-hand with freedom of conscience and other Constitutional rights, like free speech and the freedom to associate with like-minded individuals. When advocates of alternative or minority sexual activity try to weaken or take away the freedom of religious practice and conscience, they should recognize that in the long run, it will likely weaken their own rights. The consequences of demographics means the advocates of sterile sexual activity will always be in the minority, so they should be especially sensitive to weakening these rights, as they will need them again and again in history.

Derrick Weiller
9 months 3 weeks ago

Tim:
Please cite cases in which "...advocates of alternative or minority sexual activity try to weaken or take away the freedom of religious practice and conscience.
Thank you.

Gino Dalpiaz
9 months 3 weeks ago

TOO MANY BRANCHES ON THE COURT ALREADY

There are enough olive branches on the Supreme Court: Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan and Kennedy. We don’t need any more. How about a few more strict constructionists?

Gino Dalpiaz
9 months 3 weeks ago

TOO MANY BRANCHES ON THE COURT ALREADY

There are enough olive branches on the Supreme Court: Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan and Kennedy. We don’t need any more. How about a few more strict constructionists?

Gino Dalpiaz
9 months 3 weeks ago

TOO MANY BRANCHESON THECOURT ALREADY

There are enough olive branches on the Supreme Court: Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Kennedy. We don’t need any more. How about a few more strict constructionists?

Fred Close
9 months 3 weeks ago

Georgetown University is in Washington, DC. Georgetown Prep is in nearby Maryland. If it wasn't a Jesuit Prep School the error would be less egregious!

E.Patrick Mosman
9 months 3 weeks ago

What is the difference between "Freedom of Religion or worship" and " free exercise of one's religion" as guaranteed in the First Amendment"
Cardinal Francis George, former archbishop of Chicago, describing worship in the Soviet Union.
"Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship – no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government."
The Obama progressive administration and the liberals on the Supreme Court are attempting to install the Soviet Union's definition of "freedom of worship" as replacement of the Americans First Amendment right to "the free exercise of religion."

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