On Thursday evening, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch visited the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin to discuss his recently published book, A Republic, If You Can Keep It.
Named for a quote from Benjamin Franklin who replied with the anecdote when asked about the form of government proposed at the Constitutional Convention, Gorsuch’s book is a compilation of personal writings and essays about his journey to the Supreme Court, the framers, and the Constitution itself.
A self-described optimist, Justice Gorsuch’s demeanor at the event was fittingly kind, gentle, humble, and most of all, deeply proud of the United States and those who call it home.
When describing how his life has changed since his appointment by President Trump in 2017, Gorsuch said he often misses the quiet life he once led outside Boulder, Colorado, where he previously served as a judge for the Tenth Circuit.
However, he continued by describing his new life, though a whirlwind, as a great blessing and reward that affords him the opportunity to see “how much the American people love their country” and just “how much they love their Constitution.”
Considered a constitutional originalist, Justice Gorsuch believes the Constitution should be interpreted as it was originally written by the framers, adhering to the plain meaning of the text, as opposed to interpreting the Constitution as a “living” document.
“Who wants a dead Constitution?” Gorsuch joked after admitting that the opposing platform has a “much better label.”
He explained his view of constitutional originalism as one rooted in tradition.
As he sees it, originalism not only protects the rights afforded to all citizens but also prevents judges from creating rights not specified in the Constitution.
To illustrate the idea of originalism, Gorsuch references former Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan – the sole dissenting opinion in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson that upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation.
From an originalist perspective, Gorsuch says he considers Harlan to be “the only one who got the Equal Protection Clause in its original meaning right… because who can say segregation is consistent with equal protection of the laws?”
Referencing the portrait of Harlan he has in his office, Gorsuch adds, “He looks pretty grumpy… he wasn’t very popular but he followed the original meaning of the Constitution – all of the Constitution.”
Along with the portrait of former Justice Harlan, Gorsuch says he also has a portrait of James Madison and a thank you note from a 6-year-old girl he met on an airplane that reminds him how “very good the American people are” every time he looks at it.
When asked about the confirmation process following his nomination to the Supreme Court, Gorsuch said he “came out of that process a little concerned.”
While he emphasized his deep respect and appreciation for the U.S. Senate and its members, he described observing “misunderstandings” between those who see judges as humans with personal preferences likely to unintentionally affect their interpretation of the Constitution and those who see judges as “politicians in robes” subject to following a given political agenda.
Justice Gorsuch cites this concern along with concerns about the loss of kindness toward one another, the next generation’s disinterest in public service, and a lack of knowledge about civics as his inspiration for writing the book.
Pulling back the curtain on the Supreme Court, Gorsuch described life on the Court in much the same way an average American would describe his or her work environment.
“Do we disagree? You bet,” Gorsuch says.
Despite opposing views, however, Gorsuch says the Justices maintain a tremendous amount of “mutual respect, admiration, and yes, even love” for one another.
He continued by detailing how the Justices eat lunch together on most days, sing to each other on their respective birthdays, bring their children to trick-or-treat through the chambers on Halloween, and even occasionally play practical jokes on each other.
Of the 70 cases presided over every year, Gorsuch said the Justices generally agree 40 percent of the time, and of that percent, 5-4 decisions compose 25 to 33 percent of the cases heard.
According to Gorsuch, these statistics “basically haven’t changed since 1945,” which also happens to be the year that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed eight of the nine sitting Justices on the Supreme Court.
“If we’re doing as well as eight of them appointed by a single president, I think we’re doing okay,” Gorsuch joked while illustrating how political affiliation and the political party of the president who appointed each of them has less effect on decisions than many believe.
As the event drew to a close and Gorsuch was asked what he hoped his legacy would be, he softly replied after much thought, “I hope I’ve taught a few people to aim high” before adding that he hoped he would be remembered as a loving husband and father.
Other than that, Justice Gorsuch remarked that he is “happy to be forgotten,” though the legacy he is already leaving on the Supreme Court is likely to ensure that won’t be the case.
Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.