It’s important that we have sober voices in political life — whether conservative, liberal, independent, or from any political party — sobriety, decency and realism is what we should be looking for in the midst of all of our political hopes and fears right now.
Former President Obama’s acting Solicitor General, Neal Katyal — himself a liberal Democrat — brings that sobriety in his New York Times endorsement of Neil Gorsuch, whom he calls a decent man who can restore our confidence in the rule of law.
Liberals will understandably prefer a Democratic appointment, and they will still feel the bruises of the Republican blockade to Garland’s confirmation. If the shoe were on the other foot, it will be said, conservatives would be razing the bastions too. It’s a fair riposte in a political vacuum. But the circumstances for Garland were different: a nominee whose time had come during the final year of a lame duck president during a brutal and divisive presidential election year. Alternatively, love it or hate it, the new administration is in a position of strength, and can roll out as many nominees as Democrats want to block. But they can’t block nominees for four years, and they would be foolish to pass up the chance to put an exemplary judge like Neil Gorsuch on the highest court.
Liberals should back Gorsuch because they aren’t going to get anyone more sober, more decent, honest, realist, judicious and fair on the right side of the bench who judges not according to his political preferences but according to the Constitution. Gorsuch said himself, if a judge rules according to his preferences, he’s probably a bad judge. He holds himself to a standard external to his preference. And that’s something all of us — left, right and center — should want in a judge if we care about the common good. He may not be the judge liberals want, but just at the point they fear an autocratic president who will upend rule of law, Gorsuch is the judge liberals (indeed, all of us) need.
John Adams once said, “we are a nation of laws not of men,” and we need to ensure that those who sit as judges in our country’s highest court believe that we are governed by truths more stable than the whims of men. We need to reaffirm that now more than ever, and be wary of being tossed about by the winds of partisan fervor at such a vulnerable point in our nation’s history. Confirming Gorsuch is a small bipartisan step in the right direction, which isn’t the direction of left or right at all, but a step toward the common good of the nation in the midst of so much hope and fear.
Chad C. Pecknold is an associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America. Follow him on Twitter.