While legal challenges to the Trump administration’s initiatives seem to be multiplying in the country’s federal court system almost daily, newly-minted Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch lauded the virtues of judicial independence and praised a legal system in which “governments can lose in its own courts” on Friday.
In his first public appearance off the bench since his appointment to the nation’s highest court, Gorsuch joined Justice Stephen G. Breyer at the Harvard Marshall Forum. Both are former Marshall scholars in their own right who did graduate work in the United Kingdom, speaking at the event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of George C. Marshall’s plan to rebuild Europe after World War II.
President Trump last week made good on his promise to political opponents to “see you in the Supreme Court,” asking the justices to revive his plan to temporarily ban entry to citizens of six mostly Muslim countries. Since Trump signed the controversial executive order in the first 100 days of his administration, a string of judges and appeals courts have concluded the order had more to do with a campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the country than an immediate threat to the country’s security.
Trump has denounced such opinions and rulings from his Justice Department, as well as a decision to stop his proposal to cut federal funds from cities that protect illegal immigrants. While on the campaign trail, Trump infamously criticized a federal judge who ruled against him in a suit involving his for-profit universities because he said the judge’s Mexican ancestry made him prejudiced.
At the event, Gorsuch and Breyer spoke in broader terms about independence and respect for the judicial branch’s decisions.
Gorsuch said he is grateful for the tradition that “judges can safely decide the law according to their conscience, without fear of reprisal.”
It is a remarkable thing, he said, “that government can lose, in its own courts, and accept the judgment of those courts without an army to back up the judgments. Just nine old people in polyester black robes that we have to buy at the uniform supply store…that is a heritage that is very special.”
As he has in the past, Breyer mentioned how political leaders and Americans accepted the court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, even though at least have of the country disagreed with the outcome that stopped counting the presidential vote in Florida and confirmed the presidency for George W. Bush.
“It was wrong in my opinion, ok, but people followed it,” said Breyer, who was on the short end of the 5 to 4 decision. “They did not go out and throw stones or shoot other people.”