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Spotlight: Judge Neil Gorsuch

Gershon Burstyn

Originalist Nominee Poised to Fulfill Trump Campaign Promises

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

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“BRILLIANT,” “unquestioningly conservative,” “humble,” are all encomiums used to describe Gorsuch, who was unanimously approved by the Senate when he ascended to the federal bench in 2006

We don’t want to toot our horn too much at Mishpacha, but we have inside information on Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the US Supreme Court.

As it happens, our very own Refoel Pride, chief copyeditor, attended Columbia University with Gorsuch and once counted him as a friend. “He kind of stood out on campus,” says Pride, who studied history and public policy at Columbia. “He was like someone from another era. His manner of carrying himself and the way he spoke, was, forgive the pun, courtly.”

And from which era did Gorsuch emerge, in Refoel’s assessment? “I’d say England, 1890s.”

Refoel’s description of Gorsuch, 49, a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, has been widely echoed in the media since his nomination last week. “Brilliant,” “unquestioningly conservative,” “humble,” are all encomiums used to describe Gorsuch, who was unanimously approved by the Senate when he ascended to the federal bench in 2006.

Legal Philoshophy

Gorsuch is known as an originalist, or someone who interprets the Constitution according to the original meaning of the founding fathers. As such, he most resembles the man he is nominated to succeed, the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Also like Scalia, Gorsuch is admired for the wit and intelligence of his writing. “Gorsuch’s opinions are exceptionally clear and routinely entertaining,” writes SCOTUSblog’s Eric Citron. “He is an unusual pleasure to read and it is always plain exactly what he thinks and why.”


As an originalist, Gorsuch has been careful in his rulings to limit the scope of federal power, especially the government’s power to regulate. For the Jewish community, his most significant rulings come in the area of religious freedoms, where he has staunchly defended the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs. Most famously, he wrote in support of the defendant in the Hobby Lobby case, in which a store was being sued by the federal government for failing to implement part of the Obamacare requirement to provide contraceptive coverage. As he wrote: “For some, religion provides an essential source of guidance both about what constitutes wrongful conduct and the degree to which those who assist others in committing wrongful conduct themselves bear moral culpability.” Gorsuch also wrote a book on euthanasia, a practice that he opposes. “All human beings are intrinsically valuable,” he writes in the book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, “and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

High Honors

Gorsuch, an Episcopalian, grew up in Denver. A fourth-generation Coloradoan, he and his family moved to Washington, D.C., in his teens when his mother was appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency by President Ronald Reagan. After studying political science at Columbia, Gorsuch graduated from Harvard Law School, earned a doctorate at Oxford University, and clerked for two Supreme Court justices. He is married with two children and lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he raises chickens and goats and enjoys fly fishing.

The Road Ahead

Democrats are livid that Republicans didn’t consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. In any other time, Gorsuch would likely fly through the confirmation process, but the Democrats have vowed to put up a fight. Still, the Republicans have the majority in the Senate, and that may be all they need. Time is also of the essence: the Supreme Court has been functioning one justice down since last February. Since the Nixon administration, the average time for a Supreme Court nomination to pass the Senate has been 73 days.

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