By Kate Murphy
Neil Gorsuch is the conservative judge whose Supreme Court nomination sparked a brutal showdown between Senate Republicans and Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., said then, “It’s really time for our friends on the other side to get over the election.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, “The answer isn’t to change the rules. It’s to change the nominee.”
The political battle came to a historic end when Republicans invoked the so-called nuclear option, forever changing the justice nomination process. Republicans came out on top when Gorsuch was confirmed as the 113th Supreme Court justice.
Gorsuch is a self-proclaimed originalist, which means he interprets the words of the Constitution as they were understood at the time they were written.
During his nomination hearing, he said, “The Constitution doesn’t change; the world around us changes.”
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., expressed her concern about his judicial philosophy, saying, “If we were to dogmatically adhere to ‘originalist’ interpretations, then we would still have segregated schools and bans on interracial marriage, women wouldn’t be entitled to equal protection under the law, and government discrimination against LGBT Americans would be permitted.”
So as Gorsuch prepares to take the ninth seat and restores a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, what impact will he have on upcoming Supreme Court cases?
Well, for starters, he may play a decisive role in one of the most anticipated cases involving separation of church and state.
In Missouri, a church-affiliated school is challenging the state for refusing to let it participate in a program that gives grants to nonprofits for playground safety materials.
As a judge in the lower courts, Gorsuch sided with Hobby Lobby and a religious nonprofit which argued it shouldn’t have to provide contraceptive insurance coverage under an Obamacare mandate.
Religious freedom also is at the heart of a pending case on whether a business can, on religious grounds, refuse to provide services for same-sex marriages. A bakery owner in Denver refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because of his religious beliefs. The court hasn’t agreed to hear the case yet, but Gorsuch could provide the fourth vote needed to accept it.
Another case that’s awaiting action centers on whether the Second Amendment provides the right to carry guns outside the home. Although Gorsuch can’t vote on cases that have already been argued, he still could play a role if the court is deadlocked. The justices could schedule a new round of arguments, which would allow him to participate.
President Trump’s travel ban on refugees and immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries may also end up before the Supreme Court. Gorsuch may cast the deciding vote — for or against the order of Trump, who nominated him in the first place.
Conservatives are also anxious to see where Gorsuch stands on the issue of abortion, taking hints from a book he wrote in which he argued against assisted suicide. He wrote in the book, “All human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”
So as the vacancy of the ninth Supreme Court justice is filled by Gorsuch — at least when it comes to his potential impact on upcoming cases — you can say: Now I get it.