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Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination occurred because Senate Republicans held the seat open for more than a year after the February 2016 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. (Bloomberg photo: Andrew Harrer)
Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination occurred because Senate Republicans held the seat open for more than a year after the February 2016 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. (Bloomberg photo: Andrew Harrer)

Justice Gorsuch says U.S. is in a ‘civility crisis’

The U.S. is facing a “civility crisis,” Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch says in his first book since being appointed by President Donald Trump to fill a vacancy that was the focus of an intensely partisan fight.

The book, “A Republic, If You Can Keep It,” lays out Gorsuch’s vision of the court’s proper role, arguing that judges should interpret the Constitution according to its original meaning. Conservatives have used that approach to argue for overturning Obamacare, slashing abortion rights and bolstering gun rights.

Gorsuch also touches on the atmospherics surrounding his 2017 nomination. The book describes how, the day before the announcement, Gorsuch and his wife caught their flight to Washington with the help of a neighbor who drove them down a bumpy farm track so they wouldn’t be seen by reporters staking out the family house in Colorado.

“That drive threw me face first into the topsy-turvy world of modern-day Supreme Court confirmation battles,” Gorsuch writes in the 323-page book, officially released Tuesday. He was confirmed on a 54-45 vote, with only three Democrats voting in favor.

The nomination occurred because Senate Republicans held the seat open for more than a year after the February 2016 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to let the Senate consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the seat.

Trump’s role

The book makes only passing references to Trump and doesn’t address the president’s own role in the decline of the nation’s civic discourse. But Gorsuch points to surveys indicating that incivility is broadly deterring Americans from engaging in public service.

“Without civility, the bonds of friendship in our communities dissolve, tolerance dissipates, and the pressure to impose order and uniformity through public and private coercion mounts,” Gorsuch, 52, writes.

Much of the book, co-authored by two of the justice’s former law clerks, is a compilation of Gorsuch’s speeches and court opinions. But it also contains original sections that provide new insights into his judicial philosophy and personality.

Gorsuch is a staunch advocate for approaches toward judging that have become conservative staples: originalism in constitutional cases and textualism when interpreting statutes. He says those approaches help ensure judges don’t “allow their policy preferences to determine their legal rulings.”

‘Proper spheres’

He says the president and Congress are similarly guilty of overstepping their bounds and violating the separation of powers laid out in the Constitution.

“The framers firmly believed that the rule of law depends on keeping all three governmental powers in their proper spheres,” Gorsuch writes.

But Gorsuch also advocates for things that don’t fall so easily into an ideological bucket. He laments the increasing cost and complexity of the U.S. legal system.

“Our civil justice system is too expensive for most to afford; our criminal code is too long for most to comprehend; and our legal education system is too monolithic to allow lawyers to serve clients as affordably and well as we might,” he writes.

The book’s title recalls Benjamin Franklin’s reported reply as he left the Constitutional Convention in 1787 when he was asked what sort of government the nation’s founders were creating.

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