In perhaps his most responsible decision since taking office, President Donald Trump has nominated a well-qualified, conservative federal appeals court judge to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Neil Gorsuch is widely praised for his sharp intellect, low-key demeanor and clear writing. While he should be questioned closely about his record and originalist approach to interpreting the U.S. Constitution, he deserves a full confirmation hearing and a vote in the Senate.
Gorsuch, who sits on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Denver, would not upset the balance between conservatives and moderates on the Supreme Court. He is cut largely from the same mold as the late Justice Antonin Scalia, without Scalia's sharp edges. And at 49 years old, Gorsuch is the youngest Supreme Court nominee in 25 years and would likely serve on the court for decades.
That makes it imperative that the Senate fulfill its role and vigorously question Gorsuch. His likeable personality and record of articulate arguments should not gloss over that he can be reactionary, or that his dedication to applying the Constitution strictly as its meaning was intended more than two centuries ago can result in pinched rulings out of touch in the 21st century. For example, it is uncertain where Gorsuch stands on abortion rights and same-sex marriage — which the court has found constitutionally protected and which he is likely to oppose.
Senators also should question Gorsuch on his expansive views on religious freedoms as they apply to corporations. In one of its more wrong-headed decisions, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 2014 that corporations can cite religious beliefs to avoid providing health coverage for contraception. The opinion involving Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores owned by a closely held family company, enables the owners of for-profit corporations to impose their religious views on their employees and undercuts a woman's right to choose when and how she uses birth control. Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion when that case was at the 10th Circuit about why that is permissible. Does that mean the judge also believes federal law allows bakers to cite their religious beliefs and refuse to sell wedding cakes to gay couples?
Other areas ripe for exploration by the Senate: Gorsuch's skepticism of the long-held practice of court deference to administrative agencies and their authority to write regulations to carry out complicated federal law; the judge's views on the Second Amendment and gun rights, particularly since his nomination is highly praised by the National Rifle Association; and his thinking on various law enforcement issues, particularly given the tension between police departments and African-American communities in various cities.
Of course, Gorsuch should not be awaiting Senate confirmation for the Supreme Court at this moment. President Barack Obama nominated appeals court Judge Merrick Garland last year to fill the vacancy created by Scalia's death, and Garland deserved a confirmation vote by the Senate. Instead, Senate Republicans refused to honor the process and acted as obstructionists to await the outcome of the presidential election. Garland would have been a fine justice and is more moderate than Gorsuch, and it's understandable Democrats now want to block Gorsuch's confirmation from moving forward by filibustering.
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That would be a terrible mistake. The Republicans' lack of respect for the presidency and the Senate as an institution by blocking Garland leaves a permanent stain, but it should not trigger a similar obstructionist response to Gorsuch by Democrats. They should not force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to resort to the so-called nuclear option and end the practice of requiring 60 Senate votes to end a filibuster and proceed to a confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominees.
There will be plenty of other opportunities for Democrats to draw a red line and oppose the president. This is not one of them, and the nation needs to see some return to normalcy in Washington. Gorsuch is a well-qualified conservative who would not tilt the Supreme Court's ideological balance, and he deserves full consideration and a confirmation vote by the Senate.