Gazette opinion: The Montana case for Gorsuch

April 5, 2017 GMT

Judge Neil Gorsuch is a brilliant attorney who has served 10 years on the Tenth Circuit, which includes Colorado and Wyoming. Working from Denver, Gorsuch knows issues of the West more intimately than most of the sitting justices. He is politically very conservative, making him a fitting successor to Scalia.

It’s time to fill the seat that has been empty for more than a year, and to allow the Supreme Court to function as intended in the Constitution.

The Gorsuch appointment is probably the best decision Donald Trump has made among his many presidential picks. Montana Republicans have been solidly in favor of Gorsuch.

“During his time as a judge on the Tenth Circuit, he built a solid reputation as a respected jurist with a distinguished record,” U.S. Sen. Steve Daines wrote Monday, affirming his support for Gorsuch. “He has a consistent record of defending the Constitution, including respecting the separation of powers, federalism and the Bill of Rights to protect our government from overreach and abuse.”

Daines office also distributed a letter Monday from four Montana state judges who support Gorsuch. Yellowstone County District Judge Russell Fagg, state Sen. Nels Swandal, a former district judge; District Judge Jeffrey Langston and District Judge John W. Larson praised Gorsuch for his answers at Senate committee hearings that showed “he is anything but a judicial activist.”

“Judge Gorsuch will provide valuable insight and perspective from the Western states on a Supreme Court that is dominated by justices hailing from the Eastern Seaboard,” the Montana judges wrote. “He’s not only established as a fair and impartial judge with an intimidating academic and professional background, he’s also a Westerner who embraces the ideals and vision of more than half of the country that remains unrepresented on the court.”

The judges addressed their letter to Daines, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Tester announced Sunday that he will vote against Gorsuch. Tester said he would support a filibuster if other Democrats try to use that Senate maneuver that would require 60 votes to proceed with a vote on Gorsuch.

McConnell is ready to eliminate the filibuster with a simple GOP majority vote to end it as it applies to Gorsuch and future Supreme Court nominees.

One political maneuver will be countered by another, and Gorsuch will still wind up on the Supreme Court. The difference will be a bruising partisan battle that further politicizes the court and erodes public confidence in the independence of the judiciary.

Now more than ever, America needs a judiciary that will stand up for separation of powers when either the executive or the legislative branches try to overstep their authority. The president who has severely criticized and insulted the federal judges these past several months has nominated a champion of judicial independence.

Tester should support Gorsuch for these reasons, and we call on our senior Montana senator to refuse to be part of a filibuster. Let the up-or-down vote on Gorsuch proceed without further politicking on the part of senators.

Supreme Court justices should have bipartisan support. Tester should join Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., in voting for Gorsuch.