Gorsuch: 'Laws Congress Enacted' Matter More Than 'Our Own Opinions About Good Policy'

By Susan Jones | February 1, 2017 | 7:08am EST
Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, is President Trump's first Supreme Court nominee. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - In his first words as a Supreme Court nominee Tuesday night, Judge Neil Gorsuch promised to be "a faithful servant of the constitutional laws of this great country."

"I respect the fact that in our legal order, it is for Congress and not the courts to write new laws," Gorsuch said. "It is the rule of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people's representatives. A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge, stretching for results he prefers rather than those the law demands."

Long before Gorsuch was nominated, he expressed those same sentiments in the June 2013 Hobby Lobby case, where the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, challenged the Obama administration's contraception-coverage requirement as a violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that Hobby Lobby was entitled to bring claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

And in a concurring opinion, Judge Gorsuch explained why the Green family, as individuals, were also entitled to relief under RFRA.

Judge Gorsuch wrote in part:

"In many ways this case is the tale of two statutes. The [Affordable Care Act] compels the Greens to act. RFRA says they need not. We are asked to decide which legislative direction controls. The tie-breaker is found not in our own opinions about good policy but in the laws Congress enacted."

Gorsuch went on to explain that Congress structured the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to "override other legal mandates," including other laws passed by Congress, "if and when they encroach on religious liberty."

"When construing any 'federal statutory law adopted after November 16, 1993,' Congress told us in no uncertain terms we should deem it 'subject to [RFRA] unless such law explicitly excludes such application.' In this way, RFRA is indeed something of a 'super-statute,'" Gorsuch wrote.

"And because the government identifies no explicit exclusion in the ACA to its dictates, it is RFRA’s legislative direction that must prevail in the end. Indeed, though our opinions today may be many and the routes we follow various, no fewer than six of us agree that the district court’s holding failed to give sufficient attention to RFRA’s powerful voice..."

Immediate reaction from conservatives and Republican lawmakers was positive and unanimous:

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, described Gorsuch as "universally respected across the ideological spectrum as a mainstream judge who applies the law without regard to person or his own preferences. By all accounts, he has a record of deciding cases based on the text of the Constitution and the law.  That’s important because in our system of government, Congress, not judges, make the laws."

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said President Trump "fulfilled his pledge to nominate a judge who has a demonstrated loyalty to the Constitution and a strong commitment to life. He is a phenomenal nominee for the Supreme Court. His belief in judicial restraint will serve the Court—and the country—very well. I also commend his career-long fight to uphold the constitutional right of religious liberty.

House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said, "Judge Gorsuch understands the importance of limiting federal power and preserving the people’s voice. He is a guardian of the Constitution, and this is a win for those who value our separation of powers and representative government."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Finance Committee, said, "The president has made an inspired choice. Utahns should take heart that the man who will replace Scalia will be just as committed to the Constitution as his predecessor. Time and again, Gorsuch has shown that he understands the proper role of a judge under our Constitution and believes that lawmaking authority resides with the people and their elected representatives, not unelected judges.

Conservative advocacy groups also weighed in:

Judicial Watch said, "President Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is a major step in the right direction in defining his presidency and moving the Supreme Court away from dangerous and destructive judicial activism. It is good to see the President nominate someone who will follow the rule of law rather than legislate from the bench."

The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative civil rights group, said the Gorsuch "is a remarkably qualified nominee with a conservative judicial philosophy and a commitment to uphold the rule of law and the Constitution. He is decidedly pro-life and understands what it means to protect the constitutional freedoms afforded to all Americans."

The Family Research Council said, "Judge Gorsuch's record over the last 14 years, especially on religious liberty, gives Americans every reason to believe he will make a fine Supreme Court justice. His reputation as a judge with integrity and dedication to the Constitution should be an encouragement to all Americans."

At 49, Gorsuch is the youngest Supreme Court nominee in a quarter-century, the Associated Press noted. His nomination is embraced by Republicans and conservatives alike, but leading Democrats, under grassroots pressure, already have expressed opposition.

As a replacement for the similarly conservative Antonin Scalia, Gorsuch would not change the ideological composition of the Supreme Court. Trump's next pick, if there is one, would give the court a conservative majority.

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