FLOOR SPEECH: Confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to Supreme Court

Like several in this chamber, I was asked on my input on whom to nominate to the United States Supreme Court. And after much reflection, I recommended to the Vice President that Judge Neil Gorsuch of Denver, Colorado, should fill the Scalia seat on the Supreme Court. I am very pleased that my advice was considered. 

Mr. President, I offered that recommendation before I had an opportunity to sit down one-on-one with judge Gorsuch. In fairness, we had had an opportunity here in the Senate to review judge Gorsuch and his credentials before. Back in 2006 when this body voted to confirm him by voice vote to the U.S. Court of appeals where he now sits. But after spending time with this exceptionally talented jurist and after reviewing his performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, my level of respect for him has only grown. 

Judge Gorsuch checks the box on every measure of what I'm looking for in a Supreme Court nominee, intellectual capacity, experience, Independence, integrity. He has all of these. There is no question that he has the intellectual capacity to meet the challenge. Yes, we acknowledge he's an Ivy League graduate from Columbia and Harvard Law, but that actually describes many people at the top of the legal profession. But that alone is not what makes judge Gorsuch exceptional. Judge Gorsuch did something that most practicing lawyers don't do. He went on to earn a doctorate in legal philosophy at Oxford, so I think this is one of the many illustrations of judge Gorsuch's tremendous depth. 

And whatever else my colleagues will have to say about Judge Gorsuch in this contentious confirmation debate, there is no question that he is an intellectual heavyweight. So I next look to those who mentored Judge Gorsuch along the way, and you really cannot have better mentors than the late Justice Byron White and sitting Justice Anthony Kennedy. Justice Kennedy has carved a niche for himself as the swing vote on the Supreme Court. There is a great debate as to whether Judge Gorsuch will be more of a Kennedy or a Scalia. I suspect he will be a Gorsuch, and that's just fine by me. 

What really matters is that Judge Gorsuch will come to the Supreme Court with a strong understanding of its dynamics, and there is no question that he will be effective from day one. No question that he will be his own man. I want to emphasize that point. 

Judge Gorsuch made it very clear to me when we met that he has made no commitments to the President or his team and he made it clear at the hearings that if any commitment were sought, he would have gotten up and walked out. After spending time with Judge Gorsuch, I believe him. I believe him on that. His commitment to an independent judiciary is resolute, and I think on this issue he will not bend to political expedience, as he should not. He is not the President's man, not the party's man, nor will he represent an ideological movement on the court. Judge Gorsuch will be his own man, following the law where it leads and that is what we should want in a Supreme Court justice. Judge Gorsuch's unshakeable integrity explains why he has earned the unanimous well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association. 

Now, I'm also enthusiastic about Judge Gorsuch because he brings a western perspective to a court that is desperately in need of diversity. Mr. President, you would surely agree with that making sure that we have those that are knowledgeable based on their life's experience of the west is important. Six of the eight sitting Supreme Court justices have spent their entire professional careers in the Boston-Washington corridor. The only sitting justice who came to the Supreme Court from some place other than the Boston-Washington corridor is Anthony Kennedy who was elevated from the Ninth Circuit. Judge Gorsuch has, of course, done the Washington thing, but his home is in the west and he served for a decade in the Tenth Circuit in Denver, and I think that makes a real difference – at least in my book. 

Appellate judges in the east rarely hear cases involving federal Indian law. Among the hundreds of cases that Judge Gorsuch has heard, dozens involve Indian cases and he has demonstrated great sensitivity to the great role of Indian nations under our Constitution. I think that explains why Judge Gorsuch has been endorsed by the National Congress of American Indians as well as the Native American Rights Fund. NCAI is the umbrella organization for the nation’s federally recognized tribes. NARF is an independent, highly respected public interest law firm which advocates for Native American nationally. Neither of these organizations, NCAI or NARF, could be characterized as right leaning – yet they have endorsed Judge Gorsuch. I think it is important to recognize that the Central Council has also endorsed the Gorsuch nomination, which is important for Alaska Natives. 

Another example, the federal government controls vast amounts of land in the west and, of course, that includes our home state of Alaska. Public lands cases tend to originate in the west, not in the east, and so it's tremendously important that somebody on the Supreme Court have a familiarity with these issues and Judge Gorsuch clearly does. Along with the pervasive federal presence in the west comes a huge federal regulatory influence. Mr. President, I think you and I know that Alaskans talk about the extent of federal overreach in our state like other people talk about the weather. Alaskans will be interested to know, perhaps excited to know, that one of Judge Gorsuch's top intellectual interests is regulatory overreach. He has publicly questioned the proposition that federal courts must defer to agency interpretation of the law when regulations are challenged. And that's a very good thing because when a homeowner has to go to court to litigate the question of whether the pond in the back of his house is regulated wetland, the last thing that homeowner wants to hear is that the scales of justice are somehow tipped in favor of the agency on the accord of principle known as Chevron deference. 

We all know there are some interest groups that suggest that Judge Gorsuch's views on Chevron deference means that somehow or other he stands for big business and against the little guy, but to those organizations, just allow me to introduce you to an Alaskan named John Sturgeon. Mr. President, you and I know him well. Mr. Sturgeon was prohibited from taking his hovercraft up to a river adjacent to National Park Service land. Mr. Sturgeon had to go all the way up to the Supreme Court to vindicate that right. And against many odds he won. 

So I think it is clear, federal agencies can and do trample on the rights of the little guy. So I find Judge Gorsuch's views on the question of deference highly refreshing at this point in time. 

Now, I should point out that I don't agree with all of the opinions written by Judge Gorsuch, but I don't expect that from a nominee. That's almost an impossible standard. In fact, Judge Gorsuch himself has acknowledged that. But I do expect that the nominee be always true to the law as Judge Gorsuch has demonstrated throughout his career. 

Finally, from everything that I know, Judge Gorsuch is a good and a decent man. He's a husband, he's a father of two girls, he's an outdoor person, he's a person who gives back to the next generation. In addition to his judicial duties, he regularly teaches legal ethics and professionalism at the University of Colorado School of Law, and in the classroom he's known to have great respect for his students and their diverse views. 

In endorsing Judge Gorsuch's elevation to the Supreme Court, the Denver Post suggested, “While Democrats will surely be tempted to criticize anyone trump appoints, they'd be wise to take the high road and look at qualifications and legal consistency.” That's an editorial from the Denver Post published on January 16 of this year, 2017. They are pretty wise words. Pretty wise words. 

Again, Democrats would be wise to take the high road and look at qualifications and legal consistency. That's what we should be looking at, Mr. President. That's what we should be looking at, and I think it's so unfortunate that many of my friends on the other side of the aisle have failed to heed this advice laid down in the Denver Post earlier this year. 

Mr. President, I have seen judicial nominees come and go over my 14 years in this body, but I will tell you I haven't seen anyone more intriguing than Judge Gorsuch with his qualifications. He has had a stellar legal career. He is brilliant. He's a rock star among federal judges, and that kind of judge is the one that law students would compete to clerk for. And if this body could step back, step back from the politics of all this, he should be confirmed with upwards of 80 or 90 votes, not subjected to a filibuster. That's the caliber of the person that we are considering, so I just honestly cannot fathom why an individual of Judge Gorsuch's stature would be drug through the mud. And, Mr. President, I just don't believe that it reflects well on this body. 

I am known within the senate for my independence in evaluating judicial nominees, and while I was not a part of the Gang of 14 back in 2005 that proposed this standard for federal court nominees, I pretty much have chosen to live by it, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. The most extraordinary of circumstances. I do not believe that judicial nominees, once reported out of committee, should be denied a straight up-or-down vote. I just don't believe that they should be denied that. And I have practiced that. If one were to examine my record, it's clear. I have walked that walk. And sometimes it has been a walk accompanied by my friend, the Senator from Maine. But on occasion, such as in the case of Goodwin Liu, who was nominated to the Ninth Circuit by President Obama, I walked alone.

And so we are at this place today in considering not a nominee to the Ninth Circuit but a nominee to the United States Supreme Court. And so I would ask my colleagues on the Democratic side to give the same deference to Judge Gorsuch. And, Mr. President, I also pride myself as one who believes in the traditions of the Senate. But it is not the tradition of the Senate to filibuster a U.S. Supreme Court nominee. I do not believe that Judge Gorsuch is getting a fair shake in today's Senate. And as much and as deeply as I care about bipartisanship in this body, I will not acquiesce to an effort to deny Judge Gorsuch a seat on the Supreme Court. And I acknowledge my friends on the other side of the aisle who have indicated that they will not support a filibuster, and I implore those of my colleagues who have indicated that they will filibuster the nomination of Judge Gorsuch to reconsider that position. 

Mr. President, after spending time with Judge Gorsuch, after studying his life story, I am left with the undeniable impression that Neil Gorsuch has been nominated to a position that he has prepared his whole life to assume. He is not merely a good choice in my book, he's the best choice. He will not be a good justice. I believe he will be a great justice. Perhaps a justice of historic proportion. And so today I offer Judge Gorsuch my most enthusiastic endorsement, and I have no doubt that before we leave for Easter recess, he will be confirmed as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.