U.S. Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch shares his views on preserving the rule of law at Des Moines conference

by Rox Laird | August 20, 2018

Neil Gorsuch, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, made a case for defending the rule of law in a conversation a Q-and-A-format conversation with Lavenski Smith, Chief Judge of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, at the Eighth Circuit conference in Des Moines Friday.

Justice Gorsuch said he worries about preserving the roles of independent judges and juries.

“The rule of law here is really one of the wonders of the world,” he said, and it “separates this country from almost any other on Earth. Go to some other countries and see the judges and the pressures they face, and the challenges the face – their safety, their security, their ability to make independent decisions.”

“I think the right to have an independent judge tell you what the law is, no matter who you are, is one of the great liberties and the genius of the Constitution.”

Gorsuch said the rule of law in this country means that a defendant who is unpopular, a member of a minority group or a person holding a minority religious belief “can go before a judge who is not going to defer, delegate, or lower the law to someone else, who is going to enforce your rights as equally as anyone else’s. That’s a powerful guarantee. And I hope we never lose that.”

He said he worries it is eroding, however.

“Sometimes I do worry that the right to an independent judge who will tell you what the law is – and a jury, for goodness sakes, deciding what the facts are – are slipping away. We’re becoming comfortable with allowing other people to decide cases and controversy, comfortable losing our juries. I’m not. I’m not comfortable with those things at all.

“The temptation for judges to sometimes let these things slide, to let somebody else decide the case, defer to some other some other point of view, some, maybe political, decision-maker. Isn’t that an incursion on the rule of law?

“When you think about the rule of law, you have to think about the least among us, the most vulnerable. The big guys, they can take care of themselves. What about the little guy, the little person? It seems to me the least amongst us are the most dependent on independent judges.”

Gorsuch also offered some advice for a group of University of Iowa law school students in the room:

“Try to remember why you went to law school. I think within a few years it’s very easy to get caught up in how much money you make, how many hours you bill, what your book of business looks like, how many partnership points you have, what kind of car you drive and the house you live in. It’s interesting how those conversations predominate and suck you over time.

“I suspect the reason you went to law school has nothing to do with any of those things. I suspect your story is very similar to mine, and for some reason you wanted to help people with their problems: So I’d say find some way to be useful, don’t forget that, because at the end of the day, when you sum it all up and you reach the destination and you are sitting in that house telling your grandchildren the story of your life, what is that story? I doubt very much it will be about the houses and the cars. You will talk about the things that matter.”


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