By Michael Bopp, Special to the BDN
Evaluating a U.S. Supreme Court nominee in a fair-minded way is hard because we naturally think about how we would act as a justice. If you are passionate about a policy issue — whether it relates to the environment, health care, women’s rights, or something else — you might see the Supreme Court as a way to affect policy in that area. You also may assume that the nominee will try to shape policy in the same way as the president who nominated him or her.
This appears to be the flaw in a Feb. 27 BDN OpEd in which its authors suggest that Judge Neil Gorsuch, who President Donald Trump nominated to the Supreme Court, would act to implement a “radical conservative agenda.” The problem is, that’s just not Neil.
Judge Gorsuch’s record on the bench demonstrates an unwavering commitment to neutrally applying the law wherever it leads him, regardless of how he personally feels about the result.
When Hobby Lobby sued the federal government over the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, for example, the legal issue was whether the government can force a family-owned business to provide contraceptive coverage to its employees, overriding the owners’ sincerely held religious objections to doing so. Judge Gorsuch voted with the majority of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to hold that the Religious Freedom Restoration Actprevents the government from forcing business owners to violate their religious convictions. Judge Gorsuch explained that while the owners’ beliefs were “contestable,” even “offensive” to some people, no one disputed that they were sincere. He continued by noting that the act “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.”