The Center for Inquiry today expressed its concern regarding the vote to appoint Judge Gorsuch of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to the Supreme Court. The Senate voted 54 – 45 on an largely party line vote to confirm Judge Gorsuch to the seat left vacant when Justice Antonin Scalia died, and which was left unfilled when the Republican-controlled Senate refused to hold hearings to determine the qualifications of former President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
“Even ignoring the partisan games played by Senate Republicans regarding the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice, Judge Gorsuch is a bad pick for the highest court in the land,” said Nicholas J. Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “Judge Gorsuch’s history on the federal bench is replete with hostility towards the rights of Americans without religious faith. In his rulings, he has repeatedly ruled in favor of special privileges for religious, in particular Christian groups, as well as expressing a clear preference for religious dogma over evidence-based scientific reasoning in matters such as abortion rights and end of life issues.”
It was Judge Gorsuch who wrote a concurrence in the Tenth Circuit decision in Hobby Lobby v. Sibelius, stressing the idea, later followed by Justice Alito in his Supreme Court decision, that the plaintiffs were the sole arbiters of whether an action required by a general law violated their faith, thereby dramatically extending the coverage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and expanding the opportunities for religious individuals to demand exemptions from such laws. Under the line of argument advanced by Gorsuch and Alito, there is next to no limitations on the demands religious groups may make to be exempted from obeying the laws that the rest of the country must obey. As a Justice, Gorsuch appears set to dramatically increase the level of religious privilege granted to Christianity in public life, rolling back the protections against establishment that have underpinned the rights of the non-religious and those of minority faiths for decades in the United States. For example, in Summum v. Pleasant Grove City, he dissented from the court’s decision and argued instead that the government should be permitted to place a donated Ten Commandments monument in a public park without any requirement that other donated monuments be permitted alongside it.
Gorsuch’s hostility to reproductive rights and personal bodily integrity is clear from his writings and decisions. He has dissented from a decision by the Tenth Circuit to not rehear a case which required Utah to fund Planned Parenthood, and has written repeatedly against both abortion and death with dignity rights. He has noted, for example, his belief that Roe v. Wade, the decision underpinning abortion rights in the United States, could not have been decided as it was had the Court defined a fetus as a person, as “no constitutional basis exists for preferring the mother’s liberty interests over the child’s life.”
“Neil Gorsuch has shown a repeated willingness to prioritize his personal faith, and the rights of those who share it, over the rights of other Americans, including the non-religious, women, and those of minority faiths,” observed Robyn Blumner, President and CEO of CFI. “As America moves toward greater and greater pluralism of beliefs, it is backward looking to place someone on the Supreme Court with such a clear history of privileging religion. The Supreme Court will face many critical questions during Gorsuch’s tenure, and he has given the non-religious no confidence that he will grant us a fair and impartial hearing or defend our constitutional rights.”