The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary submitted a detailed written statement for the record of Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil M. Gorsuch and testified before the Senate committee March 23 to explain the basis for awarding the nominee its highest rating of “Well Qualified.”
Gorsuch, who has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit since 2006, was nominated Feb. 1 by President Trump to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
The ABA committee has played a major role in evaluating the professional qualifications of Supreme Court nominees since the Eisenhower administration. Every member of the 15-member committee participates in the evaluations, which involve extensive peer reviews that focus solely on a nominee’s professional qualifications and do not take into consideration a nominee’s philosophy, political affiliation or ideology. In addition, teams of distinguished law professors and a team of leading practicing lawyers with Supreme Court experience examine the nominee’s legal writings for quality, clarity, knowledge of the law, and analytical ability.
The investigations of Supreme Court nominees are particularly rigorous because of the significance, range and complexity of issues the Supreme Court considers.
In a statement issued as the ABA panel began its evaluation of Gorsuch in February, ABA President Linda A. Klein emphasized that the panel’s role is insulated and separate from all other ABA activities. “The impartiality and independence of the committee and its procedures are essential to the effectiveness of its work,” she said.
The ABA testimony was presented to the Senate committee by ABA Standing Committee Chair Nancy Scott Degan and Shannon Edwards, the ABA committee’s Tenth Circuit representative and lead evaluator for the Gorsuch investigation.
Degan and Edwards testified that the ABA committee based its evaluation on the data received from its extensive outreach and interviews with more than 1,000 individuals, its own analyses of the nominee’s writings, reports from three Reading Groups, and a personal interview of the nominee conducted by Degan and Edwards. The Reading Groups reviewing the judge’s writings included a total of 26 professors from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Loyola College of Law in New Orleans, and a Practitioners’ Reading Group composed of 14 nationally recognized lawyers with significant trial and appellate experience.
The investigation found that Gorsuch enjoys an “exceptional reputation for integrity and is a person of outstanding character” and praised his judicial temperament. The Practitioners’ Reading Group observed that his opinions are “models of care, thoroughness and analytical rigor in resolving the issues before him.”
All members of the ABA standing committee studied the nearly 1,000 pages of information about Judge Gorsuch and individually evaluated the nominee. They voted unanimously that he is “Well Qualified” to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Based on the writings, interviews and analyses scrutinized to reach our rating, we discerned that Judge Gorsuch believes strongly in the independence of the judicial branch of government, and we predict that he will be a strong but respectful voice in protecting it.” Degan said.
In his opening statement on the first day of the hearings, Gorsuch emphasized that he has “tried to treat all who come to court fairly and with respect” and that his decisions “have never reflected a judgment about the people before me – only my best judgment about the law and facts at issue in each particular case.”
Gorsuch holds a law degree from Harvard Law School and a Doctor of Philosophy in Law from University College in Oxford. After clerking for DC Circuit Appeals Court Judge David Sentelle and Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, he joined the law firm of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel. Following 10 years of private practice from 1995 to 2005, he served as a principal deputy to the associate attorney general in the Department of Justice until his judicial appointment by President George W. Bush.
The Senate committee, originally set to consider the nomination on March 27, delayed the vote for a week at the request of the committee’s minority members.