Neil Gorsuch Says Supreme Court Justices Aren’t Liberal, Conservative

Greg Stohr and Kimberly Robinson

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch said he doesn’t view the justices as liberal or conservative, characterizing his “originalist” approach toward the Constitution as a nonpolitical way to keep personal preferences from influencing rulings.

Gorsuch, the first of President Donald Trump’s two Supreme Court appointees, said during an interview Friday in his Washington chambers that originalism is supported by people of “all kinds of different political persuasions.”

Legal conservatives in recent decades have embraced originalism, which focuses on the meaning of the Constitution’s words at the time it was adopted. The late Justice Antonin Scalia was an originalist, as is current Justice Clarence Thomas, using that approach to argue for overturning Obamacare, slashing abortion rights, and bolstering gun rights.

“You all write these headlines saying liberals and conservatives on the court. I just don’t see it that way,” Gorsuch said. “In the confirmation process what struck me is a lot of people do see judges as politicians in robes. And that’s just so foreign to my lived experience as a lawyer and a judge.”

‘A Republic’

Gorsuch granted the interview as part of the rollout of his first book since joining the court, “A Republic, If You Can Keep It,” which was published this week.

The Federalist Society, whose leaders advised Trump on the selection of Gorsuch and other jurists, has dedicated its national convention this year to originalism. Panels will include “What is Originalism?,” “Originalism and Changes in Technology,” and “Why, or Why Not, Be an Originalist?”

Gorsuch spoke at the annual gathering’s dinner in 2017, and the group has said Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s second appointment to the top U.S. court, will be this year’s featured speaker.

In the interview, Gorsuch pushed back on the idea that originalism most often leads to conservative results.

He pointed to the Sixth Amendment’s right to confront accusers. Gorsuch said that right is sometimes curtailed by “living constitutionalists” -- people who he said think “judges should be able to make things up and add to the Constitution.”

‘Living’ Constitution

Those who believe in a “living” Constitution sometimes subordinate defendants’ right to confront their accuser, Gorsuch said, so “that maybe a police report, written by an officer who’s not there, can be enough to send a person to prison for 20 years.”

“Originalism says no to that. Is that conservative? Is that liberal? Or is that conserving the original meaning of the Constitution?” he said.

Gorsuch, 52, at times has aligned himself with the court’s four Democratic appointees, most often in criminal cases. In the most recent term he wrote the majority opinion striking down a provision that increased sentences for some people convicted of carrying a firearm during a violent crime, saying it was unconstitutionally vague.

The ruling drew a sharp dissent from Kavanaugh, who said it “will make it harder to prosecute violent gun crimes in the future.”

The title of Gorsuch’s book recalls Benjamin Franklin’s reported reply as he left the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, when he was asked what sort of government the nation’s founders were creating.

(Adds comments from Gorsuch starting in ninth paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net;Kimberly Robinson in Arlington at krobinson103@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, Ros Krasny

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