After a 54-45 vote in the Senate, Neil Gorsuch is now officially one of the nine justices of the American Supreme Court. But what does someone have to do in order to get this lifetime job?
One needs to be appointed by the President, and they shall serve until they retire or die. Consequently, the President is most likely to nominate a judge who has a history of reaching rulings congruent with their own views or agenda. To add to the mix, the Senate has to confirm the nomination – and, given that Senators have their own political agenda, this complicates matters greatly as they can reject the President’s nomination with just 51 votes.
When Barack Obama was president he was unable to appoint Merrick Garland to the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of hardline conservative Antonin Scalia in February 2016, because the Republican-controlled Senate believed it the place of the next President to appoint the new Supreme Court Justice, as Obama was in the final year of his tenure.
This politicisation of the American Supreme Court means that all current and potential judges are labelled as either “liberal” or “conservative”. Liberal justices – of which there are currently four – are more often associated with the Democratic Party, and conservative judges, who presently number four, (including Neil Gorsuch) with the Republicans. Justice Kennedy, as the most ideologically moderate, is frequently the deciding vote.
Justices of the Supreme Court have the power to declare whether a law is unconstitutional or valid, and their rulings set precedents that must be followed in courts throughout the USA. They have the power to pass judgements on all issues in the USA, however controversial – including abortion, freedom of speech and the right to bear arms.
One might think that the law and the American constitution is the same whatever the angle from which they are examined, but different justices have quite distinct – and often opposing – interpretations. In general, this breaks along ideological lines, with liberals taking a starkly different view from conservatives.
This is why President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch is such a crucial development.
Some of the stances of the newly appointed Justice Gorsuch, are:
• He is pro-religious freedoms. This was fact was illustrated when he was a judge in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals; Gorsuch wrote a ruling for the Roman Catholic Organisation of the Little Sisters of the Poor to have an opt-out of the American federal health care system, because by forcing them to pay taxes for health care procedures such as abortion would put a burden their right to free religion.
• Private sector donations of money in politics during election campaigns have been accepted by Gorsuch as a right that cannot be regulated by the government.
• Gorsuch seems to be pro-death penalty. This conclusion is reached on the basis that Gorsuch denied requests of death-row inmates seeking to escape their executions.
• Originalism is advocated by Gorsuch. This is a manner of constitutional interpretation favoured by conservatives, which holds that the constitution should be read precisely as its authors intended it to be, at the time of writing.
• He also advocates textualism: what you see is what you get. You have to interpret legal statutes literally.
• Gorsuch is opposed to euthanasia, as he makes clear in his book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. This stance is clearly surmised when he says, “Human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”
• Many commentators therefore expect him to re-examine Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established women’s constitutional right to abortion – and it has been widely speculated he will come down in favour of overturning the ruling.
Now, Gorsuch is a very educated man; he did his undergraduate law at Columbia University of New York, before going on to complete his Juris Doctor at Harvard in 1991 on a Truman Scholarship – and, most impressively, later received his PhD in Law from University College at Oxford University.
Thus far Gorsuch has served in numerous capacities in the law profession. From 1991 to 1992 he clerked for Judge David B. Sentelle on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and then spent 1993-1994 clerking for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. From 1995 to 2005, he worked as a lawyer at a private firm in Washington, D.C.. Following this, Gorsuch served as Principal Deputy to the Associate Attorney General, Robert McCallum, at the United States Department of Justice for a period of approximately a year. In addition to this, he has also been a Thomson visiting professor at the University of Colorado’s law school. Finally, Gorsuch was nominated by President George W. Bush to sit on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in May 2006
After much consternation, Gorsuch was eventually confirmed by the Senate. As a consequence, there currently exists a small conservative majority on the Supreme Court, if Justice Kennedy can be considered marginally favouring conservative rulings. This majority may further increase, as a number of justices currently serving on the court are rather elderly. Whether by or retirement, should another vacancy arise before 2020, then President Trump will benefit from the opportunity to nominate another judge – who will most probably be conservative. Whether this is for better or for worse, only time shall tell.