March 23, 2017
by John Kaempf

Regardless Of What One Thinks of President Trump, Supporters of Religious Freedom Should Be Pleased By His Nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court

As most readers undoubtedly know, this year, President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court left by last year’s death of Justice Scalia. Given Judge Gorsuch’s record, supporters of religious liberty should be pleased by his likely confirmation by the U.S. Senate to serve on the Supreme Court.

Judge Gorsuch was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit (Colorado) by President George W. Bush in 2006, and was confirmed by the Senate without controversy. He turns 50 this year and, therefore, could serve on the Supreme Court for many decades. He has impeccable credentials, including degrees from Columbia, Oxford, and Harvard Law School. He clerked for two U.S. Supreme Court justices, Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. If confirmed, he would be the first justice to serve on the Court with a justice he clerked for (Justice Kennedy).

Judge Gorsuch is celebrated as a sharp legal thinker and an incisive legal writer similar to Justice Scalia. SCOTUSblog, which covers the U.S. Supreme Court, states that Judge Gorsuch’s lower federal court opinions are, like Justice Scalia’s, “exceptionally clear and routinely entertaining; he is an unusual pleasure to read, and it is always plain exactly what he thinks and why. Like Justice Scalia, Judge Gorsuch also seems to have a set of judicial/ideological commitments apart from his personal policy preferences that drive his decisionmaking.”

In two recent cases in which Judge Gorsuch participated on the 10th Circuit, known as Hobby Lobby Stores and Little Sisters of the Poor, he wrote opinions upholding religious liberty that were accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court. He also stressed the need to accept the parties’ own conceptions regarding the requirements of their faith. These two cases address efforts to impose the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act on religious entities and business owners who oppose contraception based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

Significantly, SCOTUSblog concludes that “Judge Gorsuch has shown himself to be an ardent defender of religious liberties,” and he “would be a natural successor to Justice Scalia in adopting a pro-religion conception” of the First Amendment.

Therefore, on the issue of religious liberty, the balance of the Supreme Court should stay as it was with Justice Scalia if Judge Gorsuch is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. That is good news for churches, religious schools, and other religious entities.