President Trump can cut taxes, build the wall, rebuild the military, pull us out of disastrous agreements such as the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, and he can make America great again in many ways. But nothing he does will transcend or outlive his impact on the U.S. Supreme Court, beginning with the service of Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Justice Gorsuch was sworn into office a year ago this week. He has already made a substantial impact upon the Supreme Court and the country.
The judiciary is the one co-equal branch of our government that can have long-lasting, profound and intimate bearing on the American people. Laws can be changed and even repealed, and executive orders can be reversed. But Supreme Court decisions — even the worst of them — can last for decades and generations.
As just one example, the Plessy v. Ferguson decision — the one that codified the barbaric “separate but equal” designation of African-Americans — stayed on the books for almost 60 years. This is why the president’s nomination of Justice Gorsuch, and the duration of his service on the court, is so pivotal.
With a long demonstrated record of honoring the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law, and his unapologetic testimony along those lines during several days of confirmation hearings, Justice Gorsuch was confirmed to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. In subsequent public appearances, Justice Gorsuch stated his commitment to the originalism and textualism in judging cases: “Neither is going anywhere on my watch.” His friend Justice Scalia would have been proud.
Justice Gorsuch backed up that public commitment in several cases since then. In the high profile case of Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, Justice Gorsuch voted with the 7-2 majority in agreeing that the state of Missouri could not deny public benefits to Trinity Lutheran Church simply because of its religious disposition.
First Amendment advocates can take a measure of comfort in Justice Gorsuch’s concurring opinion with Justice Clarence Thomas, in which he zeroed in on the “free exercise” clause, opining that it “guarantees the free exercise of religion, not just the right to inward belief (or status).” With more such First Amendment cases, especially religious freedom cases, inevitably headed toward the high court, this opinion is no small encouragement to the majority of Americans sick and tired of activist judges intent on rewriting the Constitution.
Indeed, 21 percent (one in five) of all voters in the 2016 presidential election cited appointments to the Supreme Court as “the most important factor” in deciding their vote. Of these literally millions of voters, President Trump won a landslide of 57 percent to 40 percent over Hillary Clinton.
Justice Gorsuch will likely be the deciding vote in the high-profile case of Janus v. AFSCME, which may free up government workers from being required to pay for the union’s political activity even if they don’t support such activity. The high court deadlocked 4-4 in a similar case after Justice Scalia’s untimely death.
The Janus case, and many others that will come before him during his service on the Supreme Court, will go a long way toward shaping America’s future. President Trump will likely have at least one more opportunity to make his mark on the Supreme Court, which will do as much to influence his legacy as any bill he signs into law.
After one year of Justice Gorsuch, our hope is Mr. Trump uses his first Supreme Court selection as a model for all that may follow — and not just for the high court, but for all federal courts.
• Jenny Beth Martin is chairman of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.
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