The Corner

Law & the Courts

Neil Gorsuch’s Opening Statement Demonstrated the Humility America Needs to See

Judge Gorsuch’s opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee was a model of gratitude and grace. It stood in direct contrast to the bluster and boasting of the modern political moment and of the president who nominated him. He began (as any nominee should) by thanking the family members and mentors who made him the man — and judge — he is today, but his statement really took shape when he articulated the proper role of the judge:

Mr. Chairman, these days we sometimes hear judges cynically described a politicians in robes, seeking to enforce their own politics rather than striving to apply the law impartially. If I thought that were true, I’d hang up the robe. The truth is, I just don’t believe that’s what a life in the law is about. As a lawyer working for many years in the trial court trenches, I saw judges and juries – while human and imperfect – striving hard every day to fairly decide the cases I put to them. As a judge now for more than a decade I’ve watched my colleagues spend long days worrying over cases. Sometimes the answers we reach aren’t the ones we personally prefer. Sometimes the answers follow us home at night and keep us up. But the answers we reach are always the ones we believe the law requires. And for all its imperfections, I believe the rule of law in this nation truly is a wonder, and that it’s no wonder that it’s the envy of the world.

While Gorsuch may be excessively generous to at least some of his colleagues, it’s a beautiful statement about the proper role of the judiciary. He reaffirmed his commitment to the separation of powers later in his testimony, declaring:

If judges were just secret legislators, declaring not what the law is but what they would like it to be, the very idea of a government by the people and for the people would be at risk. And those who came before the court would live in fear, never sure exactly what the law requires of them, except for the judge’s will.

It was the end of his testimony, however, that was most powerful. Reflecting on a tombstone of a colonial-era lawyer and judge, a man named Increase Sumner, Judge Gorsuch quoted his epitaph:

As a lawyer, he was faithful and able. As a judge, patient, impartial, and decisive. In private life he was affectionate and mild. In public life he was dignified and firm. Party feuds were allayed by the correctness of his conduct. Calumny was silenced by the weight of his virtues, and rancor softened by the amenity of his manners.”

Gorsuch says those words guide him, serving for him as a “daily reminder of the law’s integrity, that a useful life can be led in its service, of the hard work it takes, and an encouragement to good habits when I fail and when I falter.” The evidence that he lives those values is found in the bipartisan acclaim for his courtesy and integrity. At today’s hearing, Americans saw a humble public servant, and in these troubled times, a little humility is exactly what America needs to see.


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