April 24, 2018
As a nation, there are many days we set aside throughout the year to commemorate victories in war or honor those who have served our country in some capacity. Personally, many of us celebrate birthdays and anniversaries of loved ones and friends. Up until a year ago, April 10 didn’t mean much to most people. But, this year, it’s a very significant date for conservatives. It was on April 10, 2017, that Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as the 101st Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Only a year into his tenure, Justice Gorsuch has already left a mark.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s untimely death in February 2016 rocked a nation that was already in the midst of a tumultuous presidential election. For months, talk of his replacement dominated the news cycles and the presidential debates.
In the view of many Americans, the 2016 Republican and Democratic presidential primaries both yielded less than desirable candidates. But there was one overarching issue that drove people to the polls, something that would shape America’s future for decades to come—the Supreme Court. Pollster George Barna said it was a defining issue among SAGE Con (“Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservatives”) voters, of whom 94 percent voted for Donald Trump. An NBC News exit poll found that 7 in 10 voters nationwide said that the Supreme Court was either the most important factor or an important factor in whom they voted for.
With Scalia’s death, the high Court was split between four reliably conservative justices (except on social issues, on which Justice Kennedy voted with the liberals), and four staunchly liberal justices. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a vote on President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, ensuring that the next president would have that privilege.
With the help of the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, apparent GOP nominee Donald Trump developed a list of 21 conservatives whom he pledged to choose a Supreme Court nominee from if elected president. On January 31, 2017, President Trump fulfilled that promise by nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
After receiving Senate confirmation on April 7, Gorsuch was sworn in on April 10, 2017. A year later, he has yet to disappoint conservatives. Last summer, Justice Gorsuch showed his commitment to the First Amendment and religious freedom by ruling with the 7-2 majority in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. In this case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbus, Missouri, applied for a state grant for playground safety enhancements but was denied because of its religious nature. Yet the First Amendment prevents the government from doing this; it may not exclude a religious entity from a public program and treat it worse off simply because it is religious. The majority ruled in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church, with Justice Gorsuch joining Justice Clarence Thomas in a concurring opinion strongly protective of religious freedom.
Justice Gorsuch has also shown a strong inclination to protect First Amendment rights to religion and speech in two cases to be decided in June this year. In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Gorsuch appears concerned that baker Jack Phillips’ First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights have been trampled on by state authorities who forced him to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex marriage. Additionally, a few weeks ago at oral argument in NIFLA v. Becerra, Gorsuch expressed deep unease that a California law requiring pregnancy resource centers to promote abortion violates the First Amendment prohibition on government-compelled speech.
Candidate Trump promised to nominate someone in the mold of the late Justice Scalia, an originalist who would strictly adhere to the Constitution and be a staunch defender of life and religious liberty. After a year on the bench, Justice Gorsuch hasn’t disappointed and has proven that he was the right choice for the job.