Apr 03 2017
By Senator Deb Fischer
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Neil Gorsuch summarized what his judicial oath means to him: “A judge is there to make sure that every person, poor or rich, mighty or meek, gets equal protection of the law.”
“Equality before the law” is our state motto. It represents the commitment Nebraskans made 150 years ago, when we entered the union. That principle remains strong today. It should be a cornerstone of judicial philosophy for any nominee to our nation’s highest court. And how fitting it is that the words “Equal Justice under Law” are engraved on the front of the Supreme Court.
Days after President Trump nominated Judge Gorsuch to fill the late Justice Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court, I shared the qualities I wanted to see in a justice: strong commitment to the rule of law, first-rate credentials and a solid judicial record. The Senate is expected to vote on his nomination next week. The time has come to determine whether Judge Gorsuch meets those criteria.
I believe he does.
A justice should be a follower of the Constitution, not a trailblazer or advocate. Judge Gorsuch understands this idea. He takes it seriously. In his confirmation hearing, he emphasized the importance of judicial precedent and a fair approach to the law. As he said, “I try to take the facts and the precedent before me very seriously. I come here with no agenda but one . . . to be as good and faithful a judge as I know how to be.”
In a private meeting in my office, Gorsuch promised to “follow the law, wherever it may lead.
The separation of powers set forth in the Constitution is the bedrock of our democracy. Congress writes the laws, the president executes the laws and the judiciary branch upholds the laws. A justice needs to understand his pivotal, although limited, role in our republic. During days of testimony at his confirmation hearing, he repeatedly made it clear that while legislators answer to the people, a judge answers only to the law.
In addition to his profound respect for our democracy, Gorsuch has an extraordinary resume and a brilliant mind. For 10 years, he has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. The Senate confirmed him to this position by unanimous consent in 2006. No roll call vote was needed because all 100 members, even then-Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden, supported the nomination.
To date, Judge Gorsuch has decided 2,700 cases. Ninety-seven percent of the decisions in these cases were unanimous. This record tell us something important: he is well within the mainstream. It’s why he’s gained the respect of prominent attorneys on the right and left. Jane Nitze, an Obama administration attorney, showered Gorsuch with high praise: “He is extraordinarily fair-minded. He will approach each case the same, regardless of the issue or the parties before him.”
To understand a judge’s record, we must review his or her decisions on individual cases. In a case involving a new federal agency rule that would have applied retroactively, Gorsuch ruled in favor of curbing agency authority. He asserted that the Constitution permits federal agencies to implement the laws, but not create them. I was also struck by Judge Gorsuch’s rulings in two particular religious liberty cases. Each involved prisoners who had been denied access to religious accommodations. In both cases, Gorsuch ruled to protect the individual’s right to religious exercise.
These decisions preserved the principles on which our nation was founded: religious tolerance and freedom. As Judge Gorsuch noted, the law “doesn’t just apply to protect popular religious beliefs: it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.”
Judge Gorsuch is dedicated to applying the law neutrally, equally and fairly to all people.
I look forward to voting in support of his nomination to serve as our next Supreme Court justice. I urge my Senate colleagues to do the same.