Justice Neil Gorsuch, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, is in Utah today. He and guest Judge Carolyn B. McHugh will discuss maintaining civility in an increasingly divided country this evening at an event sponsored by the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation. It’s a timely discussion for anyone working in the three branches of government, and it should be a civics lesson for the rest of the nation.
Gorsuch is a an originalist when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. His view on the proper separation of powers is clear, and he seems convinced that much of the nation’s incivility has to do with the failure of the branches of government to stick to their constitutional duties. The weaponization of words, demonization of political foes and the abandonment of honest policy debates in America is the result of Congress abdicating its authority and judges abandoning their constitutional role to simply interpret the laws Congress creates and the president signs.
One plainly sees the effects of that shift in the recent incivility surrounding nominations to the Supreme Court. The confirmation battles waged from both ends of the political spectrum have been driven by disputes well beyond the usual cultural wars. The court is playing an outsize role in the country because when the legislative branch abdicates its authority to the executive branch, the executive branch gladly takes that authority and acts through executive order. Executive orders routinely end up in the courts.
That puts immense pressure on judges, at every level, to make rulings on policy results rather than appropriately applying the plain language of the Constitution. Gorsuch has written that the true art of judging requires the courage to strive for the correct result, not the popular or comfortable one. He has regularly argued that good intentions, and a desire to deliver whatever seems to be good policy, has been at the center of most of the worst Supreme Court decisions in American history.
But it’s not only the courts. Across the past decade, congressional majorities and presidents from both parties have contributed to the dysfunction and incivility in Washington. Morass in the Senate has been a recent target.
Author and academic James Wallner put it in simple terms this week in the Washington Examiner: The Senate will not work if senators are unwilling to make it work. He cited a 1963 speech by Sen. Mike Mansfield of Montana, who said, “It is not the record of the majority leader or the minority leader. It is the Senate’s record.”
“Senators are not victims,” Wallner continued. “They each are the masters of their own destinies because they all have the same power under the rules. When the Senate does not deliberate, it is because senators are unwilling to engage in deliberation.”
Each branch of government must do its part to promote civility, fulfill its responsibilities to constituents and tirelessly uphold the Constitution.
And it is incumbent upon every citizen to do their part when it comes to obeying the law, honoring the Constitution and promoting harmony and civility in public discourse.
We welcome Justice Gorsuch to Utah and take inspiration from the title of his most recent book, which honors the wise words spoken by Benjamin Franklin more than two centuries ago: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
A good title for a book, a great goal for a nation and the perfect reminder that while the balance of political power and proper function of the branches of government is important, it is the civility and goodness of the people that fuels, drives and empowers America.