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A good and faithful judge

Guest Column


Fourteen months ago, the sudden passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia left a void on the nation’s highest court. Not only did the court lose an esteemed colleague, but the nation lost an eloquent advocate for constitutional limits on government and preserving the rule of law. In the intervening months, the question of who should replace Justice Scalia was put before the American people. Now, with Senate confirmation of U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch, a new voice advocating for judicial restraint and original intent has been added to the Supreme Court.

Gorsuch certainly seems to follow in the philosophical footsteps of Justice Scalia. In a speech, he once quoted Scalia’s summation of the conservative view of the role of a judge: “If you’re going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.” Respect for the rule of law means interpreting the law as it is written, not redefining the law according to constantly shifting trends or to support a predetermined outcome. Scalia and Gorsuch shared the idea that the law is to be made by elected lawmakers and fairly upheld in court by appointed judges.

Another important area of legal interpretation is the “Chevron doctrine” whereby courts have deferred to federal agencies’ interpretation of vague statutory language. Ambiguity in the law has given federal agencies tremendous regulatory power if courts must defer to ever-expanding regulatory definitions. In an opinion for the Tenth Circuit, Judge Gorsuch said: “There’s an elephant in the room with us today … But the fact is Chevron … permit[s] executive bureaucracies to swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power and concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design. Maybe the time has come to face the behemoth.” Judge Gorsuch argued that the law should be interpreted by the judicial branch rather than the executive branch, thus protecting the principle of the separation of powers.

We are a republic, if we can keep it, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin. Our system depends on respect for the separate roles of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. Otherwise, we are faced with an ever-expanding administrative state that is less accountable to the people. With Justice Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, we again have a guardian of constitutional limits on the power of government.

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