In wielding the constitutional power of “advice and consent,” what should members of the U.S. Senate seek in a Supreme Court nominee? What do we, as a people, want? Perhaps it is easier to say what we don’t want.
We do not want a lawmaker. Washington has plenty already. Five hundred thirty-five, to be precise.
We do not want a warrior for a cause.
Lastly, we do not want a trailblazer. When it comes to fundamental questions of republican government, the wisest course was charted in Philadelphia in 1789.
We do want a follower of the Constitution. A Supreme Court justice must follow the laws, as written. This demands the highest degree of mental discipline. It also requires that rarest of virtues, humility.
A justice’s true role is to neutrally apply the laws as written by Congress and to uphold the Constitution as envisioned by its framers. It is not to impose a personal preference upon the American people.
We also seek a keen legal mind. This person will be one of nine to resolve profound questions affecting the freedoms and rights of millions. A justice must possess the sharpest intellect and the highest academic qualifications.
We want a “known quantity.” This is crucial. There must be a reliable record for us to carefully assess. In conducting this assessment, the members of the Senate do not guess at the judicial philosophy of a nominee. We hold hearings. We ask probing questions.
And it is through that hearing process that we will determine if Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado is the legal disciple, brilliant mind, and known quantity the American people need and deserve.
The evidence so far suggests he is.
Judge Gorsuch’s education is impressive: an undergraduate degree from Columbia, a law degree from Harvard, and a doctorate from Oxford University.
His qualifications are beyond question. He has clerked for two Supreme Court justices. He worked ten years at a law firm in our nation’s capital. He has worked in the U.S. Department of Justice.
Judge Gorsuch has served ten years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Consequently, the Senate has ten years of his opinions to read, review, and weigh. The nominee’s conduct during that decade on the bench reflects a fine judicial temperament: steady, balanced, objective.
How did Neil Gorsuch come to hold this position? Senate Democrats placed him in it.
In 2006, Judge Gorsuch was confirmed in the Senate by voice vote — unanimously. Noteworthy Democrats who supported him include: Barack Obama, his Harvard Law classmate; Joe Biden, vice president and former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Chuck Schumer, current Senate Minority Leader; and the late Ted Kennedy.
Judge Gorsuch is also well within the mainstream. Among his many academic distinctions, he is also a Truman Scholar. This financial award is given by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation to young people pursuing a career in public service. Among its recipients is Delaware Senator Chris Coons. Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State for President Clinton, serves as president of the Truman Foundation. Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri is a board member. All are highly respected Democrats. It should be telling that such an organization helped Judge Gorsuch fund his graduate studies.
There is much more that can, and will, be said about the nominee in the days to come. Much of it will contribute to a vigorous confirmation process. Much of it will not. Many, including some senators, have said they will oppose any nominee, no matter how qualified.
Americans deserve better than a bitter feud in the Senate. The presidential campaign is over. Now is the time for Senate Democrats to demonstrate statesmanship. They can do that by permitting a hearing and a vote on Judge Gorsuch.
Americans expect a vigorous confirmation process. I will work to deliver it and make sure that process is open, respectful, and transparent. My colleagues on both sides of the aisle should join me.
Deb Fischer is Nebraska’s senior United States senator.