Gorsuch sets the bar for humility, and principle

  • 21 March 2017
  • NormanL

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch made his first appearance before the Senate on Monday, and his opening remarks, which you can view in the nearby video, are worth your time. What they do is sketch out a portrait of a humble, honest, and principled man:

Mr. Chairman, these days we sometimes hear judges cynically described a politicians in robes, seeking to enforce their own politics rather than striving to apply the law impartially. If I thought that were true, I’d hang up the robe. The truth is, I just don’t believe that’s what a life in the law is about. As a lawyer working for many years in the trial court trenches, I saw judges and juries – while human and imperfect – striving hard every day to fairly decide the cases I put to them. As a judge now for more than a decade I’ve watched my colleagues spend long days worrying over cases. Sometimes the answers we reach aren’t the ones we personally prefer. Sometimes the answers follow us home at night and keep us up. But the answers we reach are always the ones we believe the law requires. And for all its imperfections, I believe the rule of law in this nation truly is a wonder, and that it’s no wonder that it’s the envy of the world.


When I put on the robe, I am also reminded that under our Constitution, it is for this body, the people’s representatives, to make new laws. For the executive to ensure those laws are faithfully enforced. And for neutral and independent judges to apply the law in the people’s disputes. If judges were just secret legislators, declaring not what the law is but what they would like it to be, the very idea of a government by the people and for the people would be at risk. And those who came to court would live in fear, never sure exactly what governs them except the judge’s will. As Alexander Hamilton explained, "liberty can have nothing to fear from” judges who apply the law, but liberty "ha[s] every thing to fear" if judges try to legislate too.

In my decade on the bench, I have tried to treat all who come to court fairly and with respect. I have decided cases for Native Americans seeking to protect tribal lands, for class actions like one that ensured compensation for victims of nuclear waste pollution by corporations in Colorado. I have ruled for disabled students, prisoners, and workers alleging civil rights violations. Sometimes, I have ruled against such persons too. But my decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me — only my best judgment about the law and facts at issue in each particular case. For the truth is, a judge who likes every outcome he reaches is probably a pretty bad judge, stretching for the policy results he prefers rather than those the law compels.

A judge who puts the law and the law's purpose before his or her own political beliefs is exactly the sort of person we want on the Supreme Court.