Our Supreme Court issued a new opinion on employer/employee relations—written for the majority by the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/05/21/the-supreme-court-just-made-it-easier-on-employers-and-harder-on-workers/?utm_term=.738599494186 Of course, the media on both sides claim a conservative victory or the liberals say it’s a fatal strike against labor.
The politicians and the media make a big deal of Neil Gorsuch as the newest justice. Will he make a big difference for conservative causes? I’m not so sure. Certainly, a president can influence the direction of the court—especially if they have the opportunity to appoint several people to the court. Politicians warn people if they vote for the “wrong” candidate the country will be ruined forever by a crazy Supreme Court. So, the selection of Neil Gorsuch took on ominous consequences.
But how powerful and meaningful are these appointments—really?
Look at this example from history. It may put this fear into perspective. When Dwight Eisenhower was president (ancient history, I know!) in the 50’s, he appointed a solid politician from California to the Court—Earl Warren. Warren started his career as the prosecutor in Oakland, California. He ran for office on a law-and-order platform, promising to “get tough on criminals.” After his successful work there, he ran for governor of California and won. He dreamed of himself running for president and launched a campaign for that in the early 50’s. When he got the to Republican convention in 1952, it became obvious that he didn’t stand a chance. He was much more a politician than Neil Gorsuch.
Instead, he switched his allegiance to the popular general, who had just decided that he was a Republican, and persuaded the California delegation to do the same. Warren even made the nominating speech for Eisenhower.
Of course, Eisenhower went on to defeat Adlai Stevenson in the general election. As a reward to Warren, Eisenhower appointed the former prosecutor and law-and-order man to the supreme court. He appeared to be a solid conservative like Neil Gorsuch.
At first, Warren was quiet but he gained political strength and became the chief justice. During the 60’s the Warren court veered far to the liberal side in defense of criminal rights. Warren and his colleagues decided many far-reaching cases. They protected the rights of criminals against brutal and aggressive police tactics. The law-and-order people and conservatives went nuts. They felt like Warren had “turned on them.”
Eisenhower even said, “Warren was the worst damn decision I ever made as president.” What will President Trump say of Neil Gorsuch in the future? Will Justice Gorsuch rubber-stamp opinions for the conservatives?
Here’s the point. Even though the supreme court nominees appear to think in a particular fashion, once they get a lifetime appointment they are free to decide cases in any way they like. And, many times, they surprise their strongest supporters by doing, not what the politicians want, but what their conscience dictates.
At least, Justice Neil Gorsuch had a solid record as a judge—even if you disagree with some of his decisions. How he will vote in the future? Neil Gorsuch probably doesn’t know until the specific cases reach his desk.