On Mar. 21 and 22, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch testified in front of Senate for his confirmation hearing. If confirmed, he will acquire a life-long position on the Supreme Court, granting him through his rulings a major voice and political weight in determining the direction of the nation without the potential to be voted out of office. Along with the other Justices, his decisions could have major repercussions in all areas of American life, particularly in the realms of the economy, education, campaign finance, foreign policy, reproductive and civil rights and health care. It is therefore imperative that nominees are screened carefully and placed under close scrutiny before entrusting them with their new position.
The Supreme Court is an integral part of our government’s system of checks and balances, and its primary goal should be to interpret the Constitution, and to protect the rights laid out in the document from abuses of executive or legislative power. Its rulings have, overall, attempted to protect political equality. It should be the duty of potential Justices to prove that they are devoted to the notion that all people be counted and treated equally, regardless of their economic success. Gorsuch has thus far shown no personal commitment to these principles, and is not a good choice for the preservation and expansion of such principles. Gorsuch is the chosen nominee of President Donald Trump. While virtually any action taken by Trump stirs up controversy, Gorsuch’s nomination is an especially contentious issue due to the history of the seat that he could be filling. His induction would fill the opening left by Justice Antonin Scalia after his death in 2016, a seat which only remains open due to months of obstruction on the part of the Republican-controlled Senate that refused to so much as hold a hearing for Merrick Garland. This, for many, is enough reason to oppose Gorsuch’s confirmation. Some consider the seat to have been “stolen,” damaging the legitimacy of any judge that their party nominates.
What is most concerning about Gorsuch, however, is his record of siding with corporations over employees, and his connections to the Chamber of Commerce and powerful campaign donors. His confirmation may have negative effects on political equality in the United States. The appointments of the current administration alone makes his suspect in that regard; Trump’s cabinet is largely composed of millionaires, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose family has a long history of donating vast amounts of money to Republican campaigns. Wealthy donors such as these utilize their wealth in order to amplify their political voices, giving them a certain amount of sway over the results of national and local elections. Corporations and individuals such as DeVos contributed a majority of the of the seven billion dollars invested in the 2016 campaign, and seem to have been rewarded for their contributions with high-ranking government positions and the ear of the President. Given the involvement of these powers with Trump’s election and with Gorsuch’s consequent confirmation, it is unlikely that he would defy their agenda.
When asked about his positions on specific court cases and political debates, he was extremely evasive, so we have very little information on how he will vote on issues such as voting rights or abortion. His past voting record, however, is not encouraging, at least when it comes to opposing corporations. In one case, for example, a trucker stranded on the side of the road in unsafe, subzero temperatures unhitched from his cargo and drove to safety after waiting for three hours, and was fired by his company. The court ruled in favor of the trucker, but Gorsuch dissented, taking an extremely narrow view of the law protecting the worker. He stated that because the operator still drove the company-owned truck, the company was justified in firing him, despite the danger to his life. This interpretation shows a tendency of Gorsuch toward protecting workers only to the bare minimum of what is required by law, suggesting a dark future for regulations targeting big businesses.
It is, perhaps, too much to expect Supreme Court Justices to be entirely apolitical. In the last few decades, the Court has often split along party lines based on the nominating presidents of the various judges. However, it should still be noted that Gorsuch has, in the past, voted in support of causes widely considered conservative, such as allowing corporations to refuse to provide birth control to employees, as federal law required, on the grounds of religious belief.
Some of these movements may even detract from democracy in the United States, which Gorsuch would be expected to protect as a Justice. Although he has not directly commented on the Citizen’s United case, which allowed corporations to pour immense amounts of money into political campaigns, he has argued that giving campaign donations is a fundamental right and deserves constitutional protection. If the Senate confirms him, he will do nothing to slow the corrosive influence of money in politics. He also has been nominated by a president who supports a trend in the suppression of voting rights with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. Gorsuch, who would likely fall in line with other conservative Justices, could be the deciding vote in debates over discriminatory voter ID laws. Such restrictions on voting can only serve to diminish the value of our democracy and weaken the voice of the working person.
Gorsuch has now publicly rebuked Trump’s statements undermining the power of the judiciary branch, and assured his examiners during his hearing that he was not committed to positions on any particular rulings. This open denouncement, coming only many weeks after the original statements, and only after similar remarks he made in private were leaked. The President’s disdain for rulings challenging his executive authority remains, and it is unclear to what extent Gorsuch will be able to stand firm if confronted with controversial executive orders along the lines of the travel ban. America needs a Supreme Court that defends equality, is willing to promote a durable democracy, defends the rights of common people and can operate against the executive branch if necessary. Gorsuch does not appear to stand for these ideals, and should not chosen to join the Supreme Court.