The Corner

A Gorsuch Made Mostly of Straw

Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch (Jabin Botsford/Reuters)

Leah Litman writes in Slate:

When President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in 2017, his supporters argued that Gorsuch would be a friend to criminal defendants. They made this argument in part to rebut the suggestion that Gorsuch would never rule for the “little guy.” The argument also functioned to counteract the idea that judges are ideologues.

This narrative has persisted throughout Justice Neil Gorsuch’s short time on the Supreme Court. Writers like to depict him as a friend to criminal defendants; the tone of several pieces even makes it sounds like he is among the most-criminal-defendant-friendly justices on the modern court.

Litman then argues that Justice Gorsuch has written several opinions and voted in several cases in ways that would make the legal landscape worse for criminal defendants.

I didn’t recall that Gorsuch’s defenders’ making that case, so I was curious to check out the four links in that passage.

Link 1 is to Kevin Ring in Reason, arguing that Gorsuch is “a judge willing to stand up for the rights of unpopular defendants if that’s what the law requires.” Gorsuch, writes Ring, “is not known to have a soft spot for armed criminals” but also dislikes vague criminal laws. Thus, he concludes, we should be confident that Gorsuch is willing to overcome any hostility he has toward criminals and suspected criminals in issuing rulings. So the link is not an example of anyone’s saying that Gorsuch “would be a friend to criminal defendants” on the Supreme Court.

Link 2, based on the part of it I can read without registering, seems to be a valid example.

Link 3 (on “ideologues”) goes to a post by Ed Kilgore, a liberal who isn’t a Gorsuch defender. His post doesn’t really have much to say aobut whether Gorsuch is an ideologue. To the extent it does, it casts him as more of an ideologue than Justice Kavanaugh.

Link 4 (on “depict him”) goes to a Daily Caller article that starts, “Justice Neil Gorsuch joined with the Supreme Court’s liberal bloc to deal victory for criminal defendants Monday, striking down a federal law that punishes gun crimes as unconstitutionally vague.” That sentence and a similar headline are the closest that the article come to bearing out Litman’s description – and have the benefit of being accurate. I suppose Kevin Dailey could have added: “By the way, don’t infer from this case that Gorsuch generally sides with criminal defendants.”

For all that, I didn’t dislike Litman’s piece. The attention to Gorsuch’s pro-criminal defendant rulings really could create a misleading impression about his jurisprudence generally and it is worth providing a more complete sense of it. But I am left thinking that Gorsuch’s defenders have mostly not argued for him as a friend of criminal defendants — nor should they have, since a Supreme Court justice shouldn’t approach the kind of cases that come before him with a bias for or against criminal defendants.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

Film & TV

Knives Out Takes On the Anti-Immigration Crowd

Since the beginning of the Obama era, the Left has broadcast two contradictory messages on the subjects of race and immigration. The first is that a so-called Coalition of the Ascendant will inevitably displace white Americans as the dominant force in the country’s politics and culture. The second is that ... Read More
Film & TV

Knives Out Takes On the Anti-Immigration Crowd

Since the beginning of the Obama era, the Left has broadcast two contradictory messages on the subjects of race and immigration. The first is that a so-called Coalition of the Ascendant will inevitably displace white Americans as the dominant force in the country’s politics and culture. The second is that ... Read More
From left: Harvard University's Noah Feldman, Stanford University's Pamela Karlan, University of North Carolina's Michael Gerhardt, and George Washington University's Jonathan Turley testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, December 4, 2019.

The Impeachment Eye Test

To put it mildly, the 1960s were not notorious for juridical modesty. They might compare favorably, though, to Wednesday’s episode of “The Lawyer Left Does Impeachment” at the House Judiciary Committee. Oh, I have no doubt that the three progressive constitutional scholars spotlighted by Democrats yearn in ... Read More
From left: Harvard University's Noah Feldman, Stanford University's Pamela Karlan, University of North Carolina's Michael Gerhardt, and George Washington University's Jonathan Turley testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, December 4, 2019.

The Impeachment Eye Test

To put it mildly, the 1960s were not notorious for juridical modesty. They might compare favorably, though, to Wednesday’s episode of “The Lawyer Left Does Impeachment” at the House Judiciary Committee. Oh, I have no doubt that the three progressive constitutional scholars spotlighted by Democrats yearn in ... Read More
Culture

The Absurd Crusade against the Salvation Army

We all know some individuals who are so obviously good and kind that we are certain if anyone were to dislike them, that's all we would need to know about the person. We would immediately assume he or she is a bad person. To hate the manifestly good is a sure sign of being bad. Such is the case regarding the ... Read More
Culture

The Absurd Crusade against the Salvation Army

We all know some individuals who are so obviously good and kind that we are certain if anyone were to dislike them, that's all we would need to know about the person. We would immediately assume he or she is a bad person. To hate the manifestly good is a sure sign of being bad. Such is the case regarding the ... Read More
White House

Nancy Pelosi’s Case

Further to the post below, a couple of thoughts on Nancy Pelosi’s statement yesterday. She said this near the beginning: During the constitutional convention, James Madison, the architect of the Constitution, warned that a president might betray his trust to foreign powers which might prove fatal to the ... Read More
White House

Nancy Pelosi’s Case

Further to the post below, a couple of thoughts on Nancy Pelosi’s statement yesterday. She said this near the beginning: During the constitutional convention, James Madison, the architect of the Constitution, warned that a president might betray his trust to foreign powers which might prove fatal to the ... Read More