by Carolyn Shapiro, Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Institute on the Supreme Court of the United States, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law
The two days of Q&A between senators and Judge Neil Gorsuch has been marked by his unwillingness to answer some of the most basic questions about his views of the law. Judge Gorsuch and Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT), for example, had a lengthy tug-of-war about whether Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided. This should not be a hard question, but Gorsuch resisted giving a straight answer. Of course, Gorsuch does think that Brown was rightly decided, and he eventually got around to saying so, albeit circuitously. Gorsuch resisted answering this softball because once he gave a straight answer about Brown, it was harder not to answer about other, more controversial cases like Griswold (right to birth control) or Roe v. Wade.
Admitting to a belief that a case was wrongly decided does not require committing to vote to overrule (and I do not think that any nominee should make promises about how they will vote) because there are significant stare decisis concerns, as Gorsuch repeatedly and correctly emphasized. But a more candid discussion even about Brown would allow for some insight into how Gorsuch thinks about how to interpret the Constitution’s protections for rights that may not have been recognized by, or relevant to, the Framers. Indeed, at least in the portions of the hearing that I heard, no senator pushed him to fully explain his claim that Brown was “consistent with the original meaning” of the 14th Amendment, which might have shed some light on his judicial philosophy and methodology. (Segregated schools were widespread and uncontroversial at the time the Amendment was enacted.)