Whenever U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was confronted with questions this summer about the lack of Republican legislative accomplishments, he trotted out three words: “Justice Neil Gorsuch.”
Like a kindergartener showing off prized artwork to his parents, McConnell got to utter those three words again Thursday, this time introducing the man himself to about 500 of his constituents at the University of Louisville.
“When President Trump sent his nomination to the Senate earlier this year, as some of you know, the friends of mine in the audience, I could not have been happier,” McConnell said.
In his 30-minute speech at Comstock Hall, Gorsuch proved why.
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The 50-year-old Justice spoke in depth about originalism, the judicial philosophy to which he subscribes, illustrating his belief that the judicial branch should interpret the U.S. Constitution as the founders intended. He spoke again on the topic Thursday night at the University of Kentucky.
“I worry that any theory of judgment that asks us to weigh costs and benefits and decide what we judges think the optimal rule for the future might be, risks dropping the founders’ baton and conflates the judicial role with the legislative function,” Gorsuch said in Louisville.
Instead of ruling with the future in mind, judges should try to base their decisions in the original intent of the framers of the Constitution, Gorsuch said.
Many conservative lawmakers value this interpretation of the law, which has become politicized as courts rule on controversial social issues, such as gay marriage.
Gorsuch made it clear he does not think the courts should circumvent the legislature, saying instead that courts should enforce the law as it is written.
“Sometimes, too, in real life the good guy loses because of a law enacted by Congress is itself unjust,” Gorsuch said. “It is the job of the judge to apply, not amend the law passed by the legislative branch, even though she may prefer a very different outcome herself.”
McConnell has called his decision to prevent President Barack Obama from naming a replacement to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat in his final year of office, the single biggest decision of his political career.
The vacancy may have been a factor in the election of President Donald Trump, who promised to appoint a justice opposed to abortion rights.
Gorsuch honored Justice Antonin Scalia, who he replaced, in his speech, noting that he keeps in his judicial chambers in Washington D.C. the mounted head of an elk Scalia shot.
“Leroy’s place in my chamber will always be secure,” Gorsuch said. “A happy and watchful reminder of a great man.”
He also pointed out that while the courts are often subject to political attention, only 5 percent of court rulings in the country are appealed. If they reach the Supreme Court, he said, the justices rule unanimously about 45 percent of the time.
“To me, these remarkable, but often overlooked facts are evidence of the strength of the rule of law in the United States,” Gorsuch said.
Gorsuch, who was the first Supreme Court justice to be approved by the Senate with less than 60 votes, said judges are not political.
“I don’t believe in red judges or blue judges,” Gorsuch said. “We wear black.”
Seated behind him, McConnell smiled.