WASHINGTON – Justice Neil Gorsuch is President Trump's first nominee to the Supreme Court and after more than two years passing judgment on the nation's most complicated cases, he's written a book where he shares insights into his life on the bench and concerns he's developed throughout his storied career.
We met Justice Gorsuch for an interview in the Solicitor General's office at the Supreme Court.
The Back Story
So many Americans remember the moment in 2017 when he and his wife Louise walked into the East Room as President Trump nominated him to the court.
"Yeah, that moment was a moment when I kind of knew everything was about to change right?" he told CBN News.
And as you may imagine there's a back story there.
"How do you get into the White House without anybody noticing after the president has tweeted out to the American people that they should tune in for an announcement at 8 o'clock that evening? Um, you have to go through the kitchen. So, Louise and I, our first exposure to the White House was through the kitchen," he recalled.
"And then we were escorted upstairs to the president's residence and he had very graciously allowed me to use the Lincoln bedroom as an office for the day and so I wrote my remarks for the East Room that evening seated at a desk where the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln's handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address, was right next to me," he said.
His wife, who is originally from England, was given use of the so-called "Queens Bedroom" across the hall. A room named for the number of royals who have stayed there over the years.
"We were asked not to make any phone calls, don't tell anybody the news until after the announcement except Louise was allowed one phone call. She could call her folks back in England – she's originally from there – because they figured who cares? Nobody over there is gonna tell anybody anyway. So she calls up her father and she says 'Dad you're never going to guess. Neil is about to be nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States.' And he replies, 'Honey, it's the middle of the night here, but I have been following your American news and they just filmed another fellow. He's in his car and he's at a gas station and he's on his way to Washington. They filmed it about an hour ago, so I hate to break it to ya, honey, but it isn't going to be Neil,' Well, Louise said, 'Dad, I'm sitting right now in the Lincoln Bedroom. I'm pretty sure it's going to be Neil.' And he said 'Honey, but this is President Trump and he loves a surprise and the other guy could be down the hall by now.' So, in-laws, right?" he said with a smile.
Life at Court
As a circuit judge, Gorsuch was celebrated for upholding the religious liberty of Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor against the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
In this term of the court, he'll tackle cases dealing with abortion and determine whether the term "sex" applies to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Gorsuch wouldn't discuss matters before the court or other controversial issues, but he did offer insights into what life is like inside the court.
"It is a lovely place and a huge honor, and it is humbling to come to work here every day. I have eight wonderful colleagues, and do we agree on everything all the time? No. You guys give us the hardest cases in all of America to resolve, of course, we disagree," he says.
"I kind of wish [Americans] could be a fly on the wall sometimes when we're deciding cases," he says.
"We do too," I responded.
"Well I don't really, no, not you, not reporters," he said sarcastically. "The American people. When we sit in that conference room and decide cases just nine of us around a table and before we ever do any business whether it's going on the bench or sitting in that conference room we shake hands. 36 handshakes. It's a tradition that's gone on for, I don't know 150 years, and it's a moment when you touch somebody personally," he explained.
A Republic, If You Can Keep It
To many Americans, the highest court in the land feels a bit mysterious. After all, no cameras are allowed inside the chamber and interviews like this are rare. But in a new book A Republic, If You Can Keep It, Gorsuch offers insights into his thinking and lays out some of the things that concern him as a judge, including access to justice.
"We Have a Real Crisis"
"It's an important subject to me. It's a big part of the book. There are some statistics that ought to disturb us all. Almost all cases today settle before trial. Almost nobody can afford to bring their case before a jury. It's just too expensive and it takes too long. Good claims are priced out of court and bad claims get money in settlement because defendants can't afford to litigate those through trial," he explained.
"On the criminal side of the house, we now have so many criminal laws on the books that some of my professor friends say pretty much everybody over 18 is a federal felon whether they realize it or not. They've broken some law. there are over 300,000 federal criminal laws on the books," he said.
Gorsuch suggests judges get cases to trial more quickly, within six to nine months.
He also questions why certain legal services like simple wills and contracts can't be handled by experts in the field instead of expensive lawyers.
"I think we have a real crisis in access to justice in this country and it's something we all need to pay attention to," he said.
He's also concerned about over-criminalization, including regulations Congress delegates to un-elected bureaucrats which, he says, violates the separation of powers, a structure developed by the nation's founders that Gorsuch sees as paramount to preserving the constitution.
"What happens when you start muddling the separations of powers? That's what you're getting at. And we all know it's bad when judges act as legislators – I hope we know that by now, but what happens when the executive branch acts as the legislature. That's what you're talking about. Legislation is supposed to be hard and public, made by the people's representatives. What happens when you take it out of that process, the law-making process, and hand it over to the executive branch, the president? You have a king, you have a king making laws," he says.
"Instead of it being public it can be done in private and instead of being part of a process where there has to be give and take, compromise, and minorities are protected – only one person has to be happy with the result," he says.
North Korea's "Bill of Rights"
He gives the example of North Korea, a country that he says has a great bill of rights.
"It has everything we have and some dandies as well like all sorts of free stuff: free education, free medical care, and my personal favorite, there's a right, constitutional right, to relaxation," he explained.
Who wouldn't want that, right?
"Now, of course, those promises are not worth the paper they're written on because all power – there is no separation of powers – all power resides in one man's hands," he said.
"All this sounds pretty high school civics and wonkish, and maybe bookish, but what really persuaded me about Madison's brilliance and the separation of powers and why it's right that that's what's going to protect our liberty better than the Bill of Rights or anything else we can do was my life as a circuit judge in Colorado seeing how when we allow the muddling of the Separation of Powers to transpire, real people in real-time suffer real injuries and it's often the vulnerable and the least amongst who suffer first," he explained.
The son of two attorneys, at a time when not many women were attending law school, Gorsuch has led a storied career that's allowed him to sit on the highest court in the land. He's a husband, a father to two daughters, and a Christian.
"This is a very personal subject to me. And I have to say there are certain moments in life when you feel the power of prayer around you and for me, one of those moments was during my confirmation process. And I can't tell you how many cards, letters, notes, people coming up to me in the streets, in coffee houses, on airplanes and they might say I voted for this president, I didn't vote for this president, but they'd always say I'm praying for you and I wish you well and I love our country and I love our Constitution and God bless you. And those moments meant more to me then I'll ever be able to express in words. There were points during that process where I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, Jennifer, and I had lost my anonymity, completely. You don't realize what a gift that is until you lose it. Sitting in a restaurant and somebody's videotaping you slurping your noodles from across the restaurant," he remembers through laughter.
"You know you've hit a new low then. And then I realized, as we all do when God takes something away from you He often gives you something else in return if you just look for it hard enough. And what He gave me was an incredible gift. I get to witness now, every day in countless ways, the goodness of the American people, the kindness, their love, and it touches me deeply."