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President Donald Trump’s nomination last week of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court has divided Yale students along political lines, with conservative groups praising the move and left-leaning students criticizing the judge’s views on religious liberties and his strict textualism.
But while Gorsuch’s nomination was divisive, students of both parties agreed that Gorsuch’s appointment will continue the textualist legacy of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The youngest nominee in decades, Gorsuch has condemned Democrats for using the nation’s highest court as a means to enact policy, as opposed to interpreting the law.
While right-wing campus groups predict Gorsuch will be unable to swing the court to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion decision, campus liberals believe he will be detrimental to reproductive and LGBTQ rights.
Emily Reinwald ’17, co-president of the Yale College Republicans, said both Republicans and Democrats respect Gorsuch’s experience with legal issues. In 2006 Gorsuch received unanimous approval in his appointment to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Josh Hochman ’18 and Michelle Peng ’19, president and vice president of the Yale College Democrats, noted that highly qualified judges are often approved by large margins when appointed to circuit courts. However, both Hochman and Peng said they believe Trump’s pick has the potential to reverse eight years of progressive victories made under the Obama administration.
“Democrats cannot sit idly by and allow someone with abhorrent views on constitutional law — such as an acceptance of severely restrictive anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice laws — to sit on the Court,” Hochman and Peng said in a joint statement.
The Yale College Democrats have not yet arranged advocacy efforts against Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch, Hochman said.
Ultimately, Gorsuch will need 60 votes in order to be confirmed by the Senate, unless Republicans move to change current regulations. His nomination follows months of the congressional Republicans’ refusal to hold hearings for former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. While they do not hold a majority, Senate Democrats are expected to show similar recalcitrance to Gorsuch.
Hochman and Peng said Gorsuch is a marked contrast from Garland, whom they called “a consensus pick.”
“Trump says he wants national unity, but his actions betray that it’s not a priority for him whatsoever,” Hochman said.
Trump has promised to help overturn Roe v. Wade and confer abortion legislation to individual states. In 2013, Gorsuch supported the religious liberties of Hobby Lobby, a corporation that repudiated federal legislation mandating that employers must provide contraception coverage to their female workers.
Liberal student groups at Yale expressed fear of Gorsuch’s appointment, given his stance on reproductive rights. Miranda Rector ’20, an advocacy coordinator for the Reproductive Action League at Yale, noted that Gorsuch’s comments in his 2006 book on euthanasia and assisted suicide, reflect a pro-life philosophy.
“As a 10th circuit judge on the Hobby Lobby case, Gorsuch made it evident that he values the religious exercise of employer’s more than the personal freedom and freedom from religion of individuals, particularly women,” Rector said. “He has an obvious resemblance to Antonin Scalia that is concerning to anyone concerned about reproductive justice and progressive issues.”
Yale New Republicans, a nascent student organization formed in retaliation of the Yale College Republicans’ endorsement of Trump, supports Gorsuch’s nomination. Benjamin Rasmussen ’18, co-chairman of the Yale New Republicans, noted that Gorsuch was “committed to interpreting the constitution as our founding fathers intended while ensuring that his decisions do not overstep the role of the judiciary.”
Rasmussen said he hopes that Gorsuch will help limit the role of the court “to interpret[ing] the laws and nothing more.”
But while Rasmussen values Gorsuch’s strict textualism, he was skeptical of whether Trump’s choice will really have any bearing on future national policy.
“Even with Gorsuch on the bench, the Supreme Court maintains a 5–4 majority in favor of upholding Roe v. Wade, so I don’t believe that Americans will be losing the right to choose any time soon,” he said.
There has been speculation that Gorsuch’s appointment might sway Justice Anthony Kennedy to resign before the end of Trump’s time in office. Some view Trump’s choice as a conscious rejection of strict ideologies, according to The New York Times. Gorsuch, as a more centrist nominee, might convince Kennedy, typically a swing vote, that the Court would not vacillate too far right. Gorsuch also clerked for the Justice earlier in his career, and this familiarity may give Justice Kennedy enough confidence in the Court to retire.
However, Yale Law School professor Linda Greenhouse, who penned a New York Times op-ed article about Gorsuch on Sunday, disputed that sentiment.
“Speculation that the Gorsuch nomination will inspire Justice Kennedy to step down is simply that — wild speculation with no foundation,” Greenhouse told the News.