On Tuesday night, Donald Trump invited the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s wife to his announcement of Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to replace Scalia. Her presence, along with her son, Fr. Paul Scalia, who serves in the diocese of Arlington, Virginia, conferred upon Gorsuch a kind of imprimatur as an originalist. Both Trump and Gorsuch paid tribute to Scalia as a “lion of the law.” Liberals, seizing on the atmosphere of the announcement, immediately dubbed Gorsuch a “Scalia clone.” Let’s hope they are right.
In personality, he didn’t project any of the pugnacity of Scalia, which disappoints liberals, as that complicates their planned smears. He came off as a jurist difficult to demonize — polite, humble, inoffensive, surprisingly young (49) but sober and scholarly.
One striking item on Gorsuch’s resume is that he studied moral philosophy under John Finnis at Oxford University. The press calls Finnis a “legal philosopher.” He is also a serious pro-lifer. During college, I did an overseas program in England and remember sitting across from Finnis at a tiny pro-life event in Oxford. It was the sort of unpopular and unfashionable event you wouldn’t expect an Oxford academic to attend, which left me with the impression that his pro-life commitment must run deep.
According to SCOTUSblog, Gorsuch studied for a doctorate under Finnis, focusing on “legal and moral issues surrounding assisted suicide and euthanasia.” Out of that work came a dissertation, later turned into a book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, which argued against their legalization. He argued that “to act intentionally against life is to suggest that its value rests only on its transient instrumental usefulness for other ends.”
Liberals don’t like the sound of this and have already called him a “payoff to the Religious Right,” though interestingly the author of that piece at the Daily Beast concedes that Trump has come up with a disarming and difficult-to-stop-on-the-qualifications pick:
Gorsuch is the clearest social conservative of the SCOTUS finalists. He has written several books opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide, describing a sincere and consistent pro-life philosophy. (He later stated that those were his personal beliefs, separate from his role as a judge.) He wrote a concurrence in the Tenth Circuit Hobby Lobby case that was extremely favorable to the corporation. He has been likewise supportive other cases affirming wide-ranging religious exemptions to civil rights laws. In short, Gorsuch is the dream candidate of the Christian Right.… There is no question that he is qualified (Harvard, Oxford, PhD), a gifted writer, and a bit of a prodigy. Only 49 years old, he is the youngest Supreme Court nominee since Justice Thomas. And as Trump said while introducing him, Gorsuch was approved unanimously for his current position.… There’s also no question that Gorsuch is competent, ethical, and solid. If Senate Republicans hadn’t just wrecked the confirmation process, he would surely be confirmed on those bases. Instead, what’s next is going to be a mess.
In their frantic examination of the tea leaves, liberals only took hope from Gorsuch’s clerkship under Justice Anthony Kennedy (but probably less hope from his clerkships under Byron White and David Sentelle). The Los Angeles Times headlined a story hopefully, “Neil Gorsuch Could Fall Somewhere Between His Hero, Justice Scalia, and Former Boss, Centrist Justice Kennedy.” But SCOTUSblog doesn’t think so, envisioning a Gorsuch voting record much closer to the records of Thomas and Alito.
Whether Gorsuch is a Scalia, Thomas, or Alito “clone,” conservatives won’t care, as long as he breaks the liberal hold on the court. The Times didn’t seem particularly confident in its speculation, more or less acknowledging that he hews to a Scalia-style originalism but without the colorful “jabs.” Its story also opens with an anecdote about Gorsuch bursting into tears at the news of Scalia’s death while on the slopes of Colorado: “‘I immediately lost what breath I had left,’ Gorsuch recalled in an April speech, ‘and I am not embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t see the rest of the way down the mountain for tears.’”
Trump promised to select a nominee from his “list of 21 judges” vetted by conservatives, and he has fulfilled that promise. Once again, the supposedly unserious Trump has no problem settling upon a serious nominee.