This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump nominated Colorado federal judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court. The president has made an inspired choice. Utahns should take heart that the man who will replace Scalia will be just as committed to the Constitution as his predecessor.
Time and again, Gorsuch has shown that he understands the proper role of a judge under our Constitution and believes that lawmaking authority resides with the people and their elected representatives, not unelected judges.
For years, liberals and conservatives have debated whether judges should seek to interpret laws in line with what the lawmakers who wrote and passed the laws originally intended or should instead substitute their own views. Scalia cautioned against activist judges who would legislate from the bench. Indeed, he spent much of his career educating the public about the dangers of the looser, liberal approach to judging. In a world where judges are free to substitute their policy preferences for those of the people's elected representatives, Scalia warned, judges become the ultimate arbiters of right and wrong.
The dangers of this free-wheeling approach to judging are too many to count. As many Utahns know, entrusting liberal judges to interpret our laws could threaten our very way of life. With no regard for the values and freedoms we hold dear, these judges could drastically weaken laws protecting the sanctity of life, Second Amendment rights and religious liberty. Our ability to exercise our most basic rights would no longer depend on the original meaning of the Constitution but on the subjective, politically charged opinions of a handful of unelected judges. We cannot afford to put our most fundamental freedoms at risk by giving liberal judges free rein to distort our Constitution.
That's why our nation needs principled jurists who adhere to the text and original meaning of the Constitution. Judges who exercise restraint and honor our founding principles will give full force to constitutional protections regardless of their own political views. They will carefully scrutinize laws that impinge on religious freedom no matter how narrow or old-fashioned the religious beliefs at issue may seem. These judges will also constrain government overreach in areas like health care, education, and land use, where officials too often seek to do more than the law actually allows. Equally important, judges who follow the Constitution will leave fundamental decisions about morality and the type of society we want to live in to the people and their elected representatives.
These are issues that should matter to all Utahns. We want to retain the power to order society as we see fit through the democratic process even as we rely on judges to hold government's feet to the fire, to ensure that officials carry out the law as Congress intended.
Scalia understood the proper role of the judge in our constitutional system, and Gorsuch does, too. In a speech given not long after Scalia's passing, Gorsuch said that "judges should be in the business of declaring what the law is using the traditional tools of interpretation, rather than pronouncing the law as they might wish it to be in light of their own political views."
Like Scalia's opinions, Gorsuch's opinions evidence a focus on text and original intent. In one case, he observed that the Constitution "isn't some inkblot on which litigants may project their hopes and dreams," but rather "a carefully drafted text judges are charged with applying according to its original public meaning." On issues ranging from religious liberty to federal overreach, Gorsuch has shown a steady devotion to the Constitution and to the principle that judges are to interpret, not rewrite, the law.
The composition of the Supreme Court is an issue of profound importance to Utahns, and indeed, to all Americans. The justices decide questions that affect all our lives from limits on federal power to the definition of fundamental societal institutions. It's essential, therefore, that justices understand their important but limited role under the Constitution. Scalia powerfully advocated and consistently followed the founders' vision in his judging. I have full confidence that Gorsuch will do the same.
Sen. Orrin Hatch has represented Utah in the U.S. Senate since 1977.