Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch:  “Role of Justices is to Interpret the Law”

SCOTUS Justice Neil Gorsuch

By Michael Hernandez

SIMI VALLEY—“The role of justices is to interpret the law and not make it” using the Constitution for “faithful interpretation” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch at a Sept. 10 event held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.  “Judges are not supposed to be politicians.  My job is to enforce all rights and not to pick my favorite rights.   Nine old people in Washington (D.C.) were never supposed to govern 330 million Americans.”

Justice Gorsuch explained that the nation experiences 50 million lawsuits and that 95 percent of cases are decided without an appeal.   Those cases make it to the Circuit Court of Appeals, with the U.S. Supreme Court taking up about 70 cases that go beyond this level.  “We are nine appointed justices over 30 years by five presidents.   We have mutual respect for each other and we have fun.”

He called his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court “unexpected” and said  he had “to sneak out of my home town”….and “sneak into the White House through the kitchen” (before his nomination announcement).  Gorsuch said the biggest impact of being a Supreme Court Justice was the “loss of anonymity” and leaving a life as a “private citizen living peacefully and happily in Colorado.”

“We do have a problem when only 30 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government and another one-third can only name one.   Some 60 percent of Americans would fail the naturalization test my wife took.  Some 70 percent of Americans have a major civility problem.   Some 25 percent of parents report cyber bullying.   We have another problem with access to justice when graduates of law school can’t afford legal services.”

A buffet dinner in the Air Force One Pavilion followed the lecture by the Colorado native who served as Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (which heard appeals from six western states over two time zones)  prior to his Supreme Court appointment on April 10, 2017 (having been announced by President Donald J. Trump as his appointee on Jan. 31 and formally nominated with the U.S. Senate on Feb. 1—his father’s 80th birthday) after U.S. Senate confirmation.  Justice Anthony Kennedy administered the Judicial Oath in the Rose Garden marking the first time a justice and a former clerk came to serve as colleagues (prior to Justice Kennedy’s retirement on July 31, 2018).

“Self-government is a hard business and republics have a checkered record in the court of history:  Often they flicker brightly only to dim quickly.  To succeed where so many others have failed, the framers understood that our republic needs citizens who know how their government works—and who are capable of, and interested in, participating in its administration.

“We won’t always agree about the right policies for the day.  That’s to be expected, even treasured.  After all, the capacity to express, debate, and test all ideas is part of what make a republic strong.  But to have any chance, we must be able to listen as well as speak, to learn as well as teach, and to tolerate as well as expect tolerance.  This republic belongs to us all—and it is up to all of us to keep it.  The wonder of our Constitution is how blessed we are and how all of us have a role to play—“We the People.”   Gorsuch stated that the U.S. Constitution is the longest lasting written constitution still in effect today.

In his new book, “A Republic, If You Can Keep It” (released Sept. 10 by Penguin Random House with co-authors Jane Nitze and David Feder, his law clerks who both come from immigrant families and who graduated Harvard Law School) Justice Neil Gorsuch “reflects on his journey to the Supreme Court, the role of the judge under our Constitution, and the vital responsibility of each American to keep our republic strong.”

“As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention, he was reportedly asked what kind of government the founders would propose.  He replied, ‘A republic, if you can keep it.’”   In this book, Justice Neil Gorsuch shares personal reflections, speeches, and essays that focus on the remarkable gift the framers left us in the Constitution.

“This book is about my faith in America and our Constitution,” said Justice Gorsuch, who has had a 30-year career as a lawyer, teacher, judge and justice.   Gorsuch believes that originalism and textualism “are the surest guides to interpreting our nation’s founding documents and protecting our freedoms.”  He stated that originalism is “when you apply words as meant when written” (a term he first heard from former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia) while textualism is “interpretation.”   He stated that originalism is opposite of those who believe in a “Living Constitution” (that is always in flux).

Justice Gorsuch emphasizes the pivotal roles of civil education, civil discourse and mutual respect in maintaining a healthy republic.  Gorsuch’s book (which can be ordered on Amazon or purchased at Barnes and Noble) is dedicated to his wife, Louise and daughters Emma and Belinda is divided into seven chapters which include:

1:  “A Republic, if you can keep it”

2:  Our Constitution and its separated powers

3:  The Judge’s tools

4:  The art of judging

5:  Toward Justice for all

6:  On ethics and the good life

7:  From judge to justice

Gorsuch gave tribute to three justices:  the deceased Antonin Scalia who he called “a lion in public” and “docile in private”; Byron White who was a “war hero” and “star” NFL player and Rhodes scholar;  and retired Justice Anthony Kennedy who he called a “courteous man who modeled civility.”

“When I was teaching, I asked my student to write an obituary.   Most of the students wrote they wanted to be useful to the community and some shared their faith.   I told them to keep what they wrote (especially for hard times).

Gorsuch challenged young people in the audience to “find what you love so that work is not work.”  He credited his two grandfathers—one a surgeon and the other an attorney—as “great men whose shoulders I stand on.”

“My role is to be quiet and uphold the Constitution and not change it. If I’m forgotten, I did my job right,” said Gorsuch as he concluded his public comments.

Gorsuch has worked as a senior official at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he helped oversee its civil litigating divisions, as a partner at a law firm, as a law professor, and as a law clerk for Justices Byron White (the only other Supreme Court Justice from Colorado) and Anthony Kennedy.  He received his undergraduate degree from Columbia; his law degree from Harvard, where he studied as a Truman scholar; and a doctorate in legal philosophy from Oxford, where he studied as a Marshall scholar.


Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor.  He has worked 25 years as a middle school teacher.  Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].

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