Gorsuch: The Judge Who Speaks for Himself
by John Greenya
Author John Greenya has penned several books on Washington politics, and collaborated on a handful more, so this short, 200-page look at the youngest Supreme Court nominee in a quarter century is right in his wheelhouse. Indeed, not without coincidence, Greenya actually coauthored a book in the 1980s with Gorsuch’s mother, Anne Burford — the controversial head of the EPA during the Reagan administration — with whom he remained friendly until she passed in 2004. Greenya actually notes, “the book is about Neil, but it is also for his mother.”
Born in Colorado, in the late 1960s, Associate Justice Gorsuch remains somewhat of an enigma to Democrats and Republicans alike. Many folks focused more on the refusal of the Republican Congress to acknowledge President Obama’s appointee, Merrick Garland — and its use of the so-called “nuclear option” in the Senate to effect his confirmation — than to the judge himself. But in a noticeably flattering effort to help illuminate some of the more important aspects of Justice’s Gorsuch’s life, Greenya’s book fills that void.
Much of the source material for the book comes from interviews Greenya conducted with folks who know Justice Gorsuch, and via newspaper articles and other periodicals (from which Greenya quotes quite extensively). The format is essentially chronological; the text is neatly segmented into 10 relatively short chapters — all easy reading. He begins with Gorsuch’s early childhood, then goes on to discuss his education, his clerking, his work as a lawyer, his year at the DOJ, and a decade on the federal bench. In this way, Gorsuch illuminates the justice’s more significant legal (and political) influences: family, education, and career.
Chapter 7 provides but a brief glimpse into Gorsuch’s record on the 10th Circuit. Unfortunately, Greenya spends much of this chapter discussing Colorado v. Simpson, a case in which the court merely reversed a summary judgment (via an opinion Judge Gorsuch did not even write), and which, in fact, later settled. With some 3,000 cases from which to choose, one would think there was a better case to display Gorsuch here. Greenya also mentions two other cases (that Gorsuch himself presented at the hearings): Yellowbear v. Lambert (a prison-religious-freedom case), which most lawyers would agree, “could not have turned out any other way”; and the 10th Circuit’s treatment of the infamous Hobby Lobby case (an opinion that, again, Gorsuch did not pen, but merely concurred). While such sparse treatment might satisfy the lay-reader, one would think most lawyers will come away unimpressed by the breadth of “legal” coverage here.
Another chapter attempts to illuminate the similarities (and differences) in judicial philosophy that exist between him and Justice Scalia. As expected, Greenya explores concepts both jurist champion, like “originalism” and “textualism”; with perhaps the best distinction he draws coming between Gorsuch’s inherent “politeness,” and the unnecessary crassness and disrespect for his colleagues that Scalia sometimes incorporated into his writings.
The final chapter on the confirmation hearings describes the four-day process through transcript blurbs, quotes culled from a few senators, and articles quoted from the Washington Post, New York Times, Washington Times, and PoltiFact. Greenya essentially brushes off the great “filibuster” dispute ( i.e., and the rule change effected by the Republican majority in the Senate permitting the favorable vote), quoting rather extensively from Mitch McConnell. To be fair, Greenya includes several opposition voices, including one correspondent who claimed that the rule change places the Court “in a position of institutional peril.” But again, the book does not dwell long on these issues.
In fact, throughout the text, Greenya offers relatively little critical analysis. Rarely commenting in first-person, he down plays Gorsuch’s alleged “plagiarism” ( i.e., in his own book on assisted suicide) and does not personally criticize (nor endorse) Gorsuch’s infamous dissent in the otherwise polarizing “frozen trucker” case. He rather generically notes how a senator asked Gorsuch, “we need to know what’s in your heart” — but fails to mention that Senator Hirono, who was perhaps Gorsuch’s toughest interrogator, did not utter that comment fondly, but with serious concerns over his views on minorities and women’s rights. After remarking how Gorsuch “rarely seems to find in favor of the little guy,” she had mused, somewhat apprehensively, “we need to know what’s in your heart.”
Still, taken at face-value, the book is a useful resource, this despite the fact that others have criticized Greenya — perhaps justifiably so — for his all-too-favorable treatment of his friend’s son; because his primary research consists of common periodicals and a handful of personal interviews; and because the book includes a great deal of “quoted” material — rather than critical analysis. But the fact is, Gorsuch is not intended as a comprehensive treatment, Greenya is not a lawyer, and the book is more an informational brochure than a definitive biography. Viewed this way, Gorsuch offers something the confirmation hearings did not — an easily accessible backstory to our newest Supreme Court justice. And the reality is — now that he is on the bench — far more comprehensive tomes are coming. Stay tuned.
Gary S. Gaffney is a board certified real estate attorney in Delray Beach, and a long-time member of the Journal’s Editorial Board.