When President Trump nominated Judge Neil M. Gorsuch on Tuesday to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Hillsdale College students and faculty expressed cautious approval for the jurist whose originalist philosophy and conservative tilt liken him to Scalia himself.
Most recently a federal appeals court judge in Denver, Gorsuch previously clerked for Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy and former Associate Justice Byron White. Leaders from all corners of the Republican Party have come out in favor of Trump’s nominee, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. If confirmed, Trump’s nominee would restore the 5-to-4 split between conservatives and liberals on the court.
Assistant Professor of Politics Adam Carrington said Gorsuch seems not only a “first-rate mind” and “first-rate writer” but also a nominee who could appease voters who chose Trump solely on his promise to nominate a Scalia-like justice.
“The early indications of his record show that Gorsuch would be a textualist,” Carrington said. “He would be someone dedicated to a form of originalism that a lot of people that were wanting a Scalia prototype would want. It seems like they’ll be very happy with that.”
Senior Bridget DeLapp, former intern for Michigan Supreme Court Justices David Viviano and Joan Larsen, said she was immediately impressed with Gorsuch’s record and roster of supporters.
“It gives you confidence that a lot of these strong conservative leaders are so adamantly in favor of him, and looking at his record, he seems to be a strict constitutionalist, which is what we want,” DeLapp said. “You never want partisan judges. You want judges who are going to believe in the rule of law over the rule of emotion.”
Professor of Politics Thomas West, however, said Gorsuch’s Ivy League education — graduating from Harvard Law School the same year as former President Barack Obama — and his Episcopalian faith raise red flags in terms of his conservative values. West said outside of Gorsuch’s opposition to assisted suicide, there is not much on the nominee’s personal views of right and wrong.
“He has a background that makes me wonder, ‘Is this guy actually any kind of conservative at all?’” West said. “To me, he’s a big question mark.”
In a ruling last August, Gorsuch argued that the Chevron Doctrine, which says courts are supposed to defer to federal agencies when interpreting vague or ambiguous laws defining their responsibilities, should be reconsidered.
“To me that’s a positive, because I think that’s what it’ll take to restore Republican government in America,” West said. “The judiciary and the bureaucracy need to stop trying to change what Congress has legislated and instead follow it.”
Junior Adrienne Carrier, an economics major, said she was pleased but surprised by Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch over Judge Thomas Hardiman of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Hardiman was little more typical of the narrative that Trump had been trying to push and maybe a little more sympathetic to Trump’s supporters,” Carrier said. “Although the nomination of Gorsuch may be part of the Trump administration’s goal to overturn a lot of the Washington agencies. That could be very valuable and consistent with Trump’s policies that are pro-business and anti-Washington.”
Now, Gorsuch, previously a federal appeals court judge in Denver, must meet the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate replace Scalia. Some Democrats have promised to oppose Trump’s nominee, after Senate Republicans refused for nearly a year to consider Obama’s choice for Scalia’s successor.
“I don’t know how much of a fight there will be — although there always is one,” Carrington said. “This pick doesn’t change the composition of the court, so I could see Democrats saving some of their powder for if someone retires and could actually flip the ballots.”
West said the real battle in America will have to do with the elected branches, not the judiciary.
“Conservatives generally vastly overestimate the importance of the judiciary,” West said. “So, in the end, what I’m hoping for is that he’s not crazy. If his attitude is judicial restraint and that Congress should be respected when they pass laws, and the Constitution’s text should be paid attention to, then that’s good.”