Gorsuch is a proponent of textualism in statutory interpretation and originalism in interpreting the U.S. Constitution, and is an advocate of natural law jurisprudence. He is the first Supreme Court justice to serve alongside another justice for whom he once had clerked (Anthony Kennedy).
Gorsuch clerked for Judge David B. Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1991 to 1992, and then for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, from 1993 to 1994. From 1995 to 2005, Gorsuch was in private practice with the law firm of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel. Gorsuch was a Deputy Associate Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice from 2005 to his appointment to the Tenth Circuit. Gorsuch was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit by President George W. Bush on May 10, 2006, to replace Judge David M. Ebel, who took senior status in 2006.
He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University, Juris Doctor from Harvard University, and Doctor of Philosophy in Law from the University of Oxford.
Gorsuch is the son of David Gorsuch and Anne Gorsuch Burford (née Anne Irene McGill; 1942–2004), a Colorado statehouse representative who was later appointed by President Ronald Reagan to be the first female Administrator of United States Environmental Protection Agency in 1981.
A fourth-generation Coloradan, Gorsuch was born in Denver, Colorado, where he attended Christ the King, a K-12 Catholic school, and later graduated from Georgetown Preparatory School, a Jesuit school in North Bethesda, Maryland, in 1985. While attending Georgetown Prep, Gorsuch served as a U.S. Senate page in the early 1980s.
He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Columbia University in 1988, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He was also a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. As an undergraduate student, he wrote for the Columbia Daily Spectator student newspaper. In 1986, he co-founded the alternative Columbia student newspaper The Fed.
Gorsuch attended Harvard Law School where he graduated cum laude in 1991 with a Juris Doctor. He received a Harry S. Truman Scholarship to attend. While at Harvard, Gorsuch was an editor on the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. He was described as a committed conservative who supported the Gulf War and congressional term limits, on "a campus full of ardent liberals". Former President Barack Obama was one of Gorsuch's classmates at Harvard Law.
In 2004 he received a Doctor of Philosophy degree in law (legal philosophy) from University College, Oxford, where he completed research on assisted suicide and euthanasia. He attended Oxford as a Marshall Scholar and was supervised by acclaimed natural law philosopher John Finnis. While there, Gorsuch met and married his wife Louise, an English woman and champion equestrienne on Oxford's riding team.
Gorsuch served as a judicial clerk for Judge David B. Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1991 to 1992, and then for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy from 1993 to 1994. Gorsuch's work with White occurred right after White retired from the Supreme Court, therefore, Gorsuch assisted White with his work on the Tenth Circuit, where White sat by designation.
Instead of joining an established law firm, Gorsuch decided to join the two-year-old boutique firm Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel. Eschewing appellate briefs, he focused on trial work. After winning his first trial as lead attorney, a jury member told Gorsuch he was like Perry Mason. He was an associate in the Washington, D.C., law firm from 1995 to 1997 and a partner from 1998 to 2005. Gorsuch’s clients included Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz. At Kellogg Huber, Gorsuch focused on commercial matters, including contracts, anititrust, RICO, and securities fraud.
In 2002, Gorsuch penned an op-ed criticizing the Senate for delaying the nominations of Merrick Garland and John Roberts to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, writing that "the most impressive judicial nominees are grossly mistreated" by the Senate.
In 2005, at Kellogg Huber, Gorsuch wrote a brief denouncing class action lawsuits by shareholders. In the case of Dura Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Broudo, Gorsuch opined that "The free ride to fast riches enjoyed by securities class action attorneys in recent years appeared to hit a speed bump" and that "the problem is that securities fraud litigation imposes an enormous toll on the economy, affecting virtually every public corporation in America at one time or another and costing businesses billions of dollars in settlements every year".
Gorsuch served as Principal Deputy to the Associate Attorney General, Robert McCallum, at the United States Department of Justice from 2005 until 2006. As McCallum's Principal Deputy, Gorsuch assisted in managing the Department of Justice's civil litigation components, which included antitrust, civil, civil rights, environment, and tax divisions.
While managing the United States Department of Justice Civil Division, Gorsuch was tasked with all the "terror litigation" arising from the President's War on Terror, successfully defending the extraordinary rendition of Khalid El-Masri, fighting the disclosure of Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse photographs, and, in November 2005, traveling to inspect the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Gorsuch helped Attorney General Alberto Gonzales prepare for hearings after the public revelation of NSA warrantless surveillance (2001–07), and worked with Senator Lindsey Graham in drafting the provisions in the Detainee Treatment Act which attempted to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over the detainees.
In January 2006, Philip Anschutz recommended Gorsuch's nomination to Colorado’s U.S. Senator Wayne Allard and White House Counsel Harriet Miers. On May 10, 2006, Gorsuch was nominated by President George W. Bush to the seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit vacated by Judge David M. Ebel, who was taking senior status. Like Gorsuch, Ebel was a former clerk of Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White. The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated him "well qualified" in 2006.
Just over two months later, on July 20, 2006, Gorsuch was confirmed by unanimous voice vote in the U.S. Senate. Gorsuch was President Bush's fifth appointment to the Tenth Circuit.
When Gorsuch began his tenure at Denver's Byron White United States Courthouse, Justice Anthony Kennedy administered the oath of office.
During his time on the Court of Appeals, Gorsuch sent ten of his law clerks on to become Supreme Court clerks, and he was sometimes regarded as a "feeder judge".
During his time on the Circuit Court, since 2008, Gorsuch was a Thomson Visiting Professor at the University of Colorado Law School, teaching one course per semester, either ethics or antitrust law.
Gorsuch advocates a broad definition of religious freedom. In Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius (2013) Gorsuch wrote a concurrence when the en banc circuit found the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate on a private business violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That ruling was upheld 5–4 by the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014). When a panel of the court denied similar claims under the same act in Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell (2015), Gorsuch joined Judges Harris Hartz, Paul Joseph Kelly Jr., Timothy Tymkovich, and Jerome Holmes in their dissent to the denial of rehearing en banc. That ruling was vacated and remanded to the Tenth Circuit by the per curium Supreme Court in Zubik v. Burwell (2016).
In Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (2007), he joined Judge Michael W. McConnell's dissent from the denial of rehearing en banc, taking the view that the government's display of a donated Ten Commandments monument in a public park did not obligate the government to display other offered monuments. Most of the dissent's view was subsequently adopted by the Supreme Court, which reversed the judgment of the Tenth Circuit.
Gorsuch has written that "the law [...] doesn't just apply to protect popular religious beliefs: it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation's long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance".
Gorsuch has called for reconsideration of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (1984), in which the Supreme Court instructed courts to grant deference to federal agencies' interpretation of ambiguous laws and regulations. In Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch (2016), Gorsuch wrote for a unanimous panel finding that court review was required before an executive agency could reject the circuit court's interpretation of an immigration law.
Alone, Gorsuch added a concurring opinion, criticizing Chevron deference and National Cable & Telecommunications Ass'n v. Brand X Internet Services (2005) as an "abdication of judicial duty", writing that deference is "more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers' design".
In United States v. Hinckley (2008), Gorsuch argued that one possible reading of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act likely violates the nondelegation doctrine. Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg held the same view in their 2012 dissent of Reynolds v. United States.
Gorsuch has been an opponent of the dormant Commerce Clause, which allows state laws to be declared unconstitutional if they too greatly burden interstate commerce. In 2011, Gorsuch joined a unanimous panel finding that the dormant Commerce Clause did not prevent the Oklahoma Water Resources Board from blocking water exports to Texas. That ruling was affirmed by a unanimous Supreme Court in Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann (2013).
In 2013, Gorsuch joined a unanimous panel finding that federal courts could not hear a challenge to Colorado's internet sales tax. That ruling was reversed by a unanimous Supreme Court in Direct Marketing Ass'n v. Brohl (2015). In 2016, the Tenth Circuit panel rejected the challenger's dormant commerce clause claim, with Gorsuch writing a concurrence.
In Energy and Environmental Legal Institute v. Joshua Epel (2015), Gorsuch held that Colorado's mandates for renewable energy did not violate the commerce clause by putting out-of-state coal companies at a disadvantage. Gorsuch wrote that the Colorado renewable energy law "isn't a price-control statute, it doesn't link prices paid in Colorado with those paid out of state, and it does not discriminate against out-of-staters".
In Riddle v. Hickenlooper (2014), Gorsuch joined a unanimous panel of the Tenth Circuit in finding that it was unconstitutional for a Colorado law to set the limit on donations for write-in candidates at half the amount for major party candidates. Gorsuch added a concurrence where he noted that although the standard of review of campaign finance in the United States is unclear, the Colorado law would fail even under intermediate scrutiny.
In Planned Parenthood v. Gary Herbert (2016), Gorsuch wrote for the four dissenting judges when the Tenth Circuit denied a rehearing en banc of a divided panel opinion that had ordered the Utah Governor to resume the organization’s funding, which Herbert had blocked in response to a video controversy.
In A.M., on behalf of her minor child, F.M. v. Ann Holmes (2016), the Tenth Circuit considered a case in which a 13-year-old child was arrested for burping and laughing in gym class. The child was handcuffed and arrested based on a New Mexico statute that makes it a misdemeanor to disrupt school activities. The child's family brought a federal 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (civil rights) action against school officials and the school resource officer who made the arrest, arguing that it was a false arrest that violated the child's constitutional rights. In a 94-page majority opinion, the Tenth Circuit held that the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity from suit.
Gorsuch wrote a four-page dissent, arguing that the New Mexico Court of Appeals had "long ago alerted law enforcement" that the statute that the officer relied upon for the child's arrest does not criminalize noises or diversions that merely disturb order in a classroom.
In 2009, Gorsuch wrote for a unanimous panel finding that a court may still order criminals to pay restitution even after it missed a statutory deadline. That ruling was affirmed 5–4 by the Supreme Court in Dolan v. United States (2010).
In United States of America v. Miguel Games-Perez (2012), Gorsuch ruled on a case where a felon owned a gun in a jurisdiction where gun ownership by felons is illegal; however, the felon did not know that he was a felon at the time. Gorsuch concurred with the opinion that "The only statutory element separating innocent (even constitutionally protected) gun possession from criminal conduct in §§ 922(g) and 924(a) is a prior felony conviction. So the presumption that the government must prove mens rea here applies with full force."
In 2013, Gorsuch joined a unanimous panel finding that intent does not need to be proven under a bank fraud statute. That ruling was affirmed by a Supreme Court unanimous in judgment in Loughrin v. United States (2014).
In 2015, Gorsuch wrote a dissent to the denial of rehearing en banc when the Tenth Circuit found that a convicted sex offender had to register with Kansas after he moved to the Philippines. The Tenth Circuit was then reversed by a unanimous Supreme Court in Nichols v. United States (2016).
Gorsuch favors a strict reading of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. In 2015, he wrote for the court when it permitted Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to order the execution of Scott Eizember, prompting a thirty-page dissent by Judge Mary Beck Briscoe. After Oklahoma botched the execution of Clayton Lockett, Gorsuch joined Briscoe when the court unanimously allowed Attorney General Pruitt to continue using the same lethal injection protocol. That ruling was upheld 5–4 by the Supreme Court in Glossip v. Gross (2015).
During his tenure on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Judge Gorsuch has authored 212 published opinions. Some of those are the following opinions:
During the U.S. presidential election in September 2016, candidate Donald Trump included Gorsuch, as well as his circuit colleague Timothy Tymkovich, in a list of 21 current judges whom Trump would consider nominating to the Supreme Court if elected. After Trump took office in January 2017, unnamed Trump advisers listed Gorsuch in a shorter list of eight of those names, who they said were the leading contenders to be nominated to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
On January 31, 2017, President Trump announced his nomination of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch was 49 years old at the time of the nomination, making him the youngest nominee to the Supreme Court since the 1991 nomination of Clarence Thomas (who was 43). It was reported by the Associated Press that, as a courtesy, Gorsuch's first call after the nomination was to President Obama's pick for the same position, Merrick Garland. Garland, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, had been nominated by Obama on March 16, 2016. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley did not schedule a hearing for the nominee, leaving Garland's nomination to expire on January 3, 2017. Trump formally transmitted his nomination to the Senate on February 1, 2017.
The American Bar Association gave Gorsuch their top rating—"Well Qualified"—to serve as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. His confirmation hearing before the Senate started on March 20, 2017.
On April 3, the Senate Judiciary committee approved his nomination with a party-line 11–9 vote. On April 6, 2017, Democrats filibustered (prevented cloture) the confirmation vote of Gorsuch, after which the Republicans invoked the "nuclear option", allowing a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee to be broken by a simple majority vote.
On April 4, Buzzfeed and Politico ran articles highlighting similar language occurring in Gorsuch's book The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia and an earlier law review article by Abigail Lawlis Kuzma, Indiana's deputy attorney general. Academic experts contacted by Politico "differed in their assessment of what Gorsuch did, ranging from calling it a clear impropriety to mere sloppiness."
John Finnis, who supervised Gorsuch's Oxford dissertation at Oxford stated, "The allegation is entirely without foundation. The book is meticulous in its citation of primary sources. The allegation that the book is guilty of plagiarism because it does not cite secondary sources which draw on those same primary sources is, frankly, absurd." Kuzma stated, "I have reviewed both passages and do not see an issue here, even though the language is similar. These passages are factual, not analytical in nature, framing both the technical legal and medical circumstances of the 'Baby/Infant Doe' case that occurred in 1982." Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law professor, thought that Gorsuch had committed "minor plagiarism", that deserved "no more punishment than the embarrassment attendant on its revelation."
On April 7, 2017, the Senate confirmed Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court by a 54–45 vote, with three Democrats joining all the Republicans in attendance.
Gorsuch received his commission on April 8, 2017. He was sworn into office on Monday, April 10, 2017, in two ceremonies. The Chief Justice of the United States administered the first oath of office in a private ceremony at 9:00 a.m. at the Supreme Court, making Gorsuch the 101st associate justice of the Court. At 11:00 a.m., Justice Anthony M. Kennedy administered the second oath of office in a public ceremony at the White House Rose Garden.
Gorsuch is a proponent of originalism, the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted as perceived at the time of enactment, and of textualism, the idea that statutes should be interpreted literally, without considering the legislative history and underlying purpose of the law. An editorial in the National Catholic Register opined that Gorsuch's judicial decisions lean more toward the natural law philosophy.
In a 2005 speech at Case Western Reserve University, Gorsuch said that judges should strive
to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be—not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best.
In a 2005 article published by National Review, Gorsuch argued that "American liberals have become addicted to the courtroom, relying on judges and lawyers rather than elected leaders and the ballot box, as the primary means of effecting their social agenda" and that they are "failing to reach out and persuade the public". Gorsuch wrote that, in doing so, American liberals are circumventing the democratic process on issues like gay marriage, school vouchers, and assisted suicide, and this has led to a compromised judiciary, which is no longer independent. Gorsuch wrote that American liberals' "overweening addiction" to using the courts for social debate is "bad for the nation and bad for the judiciary".
Gorsuch was described by Justin Marceau, a professor at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law, as "a predictably socially conservative judge who tends to favor state power over federal power". Marceau added that the issue of states' rights is important since federal laws have been used to reel in "rogue" state laws in civil rights cases.
In July 2006, Gorsuch's book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, was published by Princeton University Press. It was developed from his doctoral thesis.
In the book, Gorsuch makes clear his personal opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide, arguing that America should "retain existing law [banning assisted suicide and euthanasia] on the basis that human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong."
Gorsuch wrote his first U.S. Supreme Court decision for a unanimous court in Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc., 582 U.S. ___ (2017). Gorsuch and the Court ruled against the borrowers, holding that Santander in this case is not a debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act since they purchased the original defaulted car loans from CitiFinancial for pennies on the dollar, making Santander the owner of the debts and not merely an agent. When the act was enacted, regulations were put on institutions that collected other companies' debts, but the act left unaddressed businesses collecting their own debts.
Gorsuch has been active in several professional associations throughout his legal career. Those associations have included the American Bar Association, the American Trial Lawyers Association, Phi Beta Kappa, the Republican National Lawyers Association, and the New York, Colorado, and District of Columbia Bar Associations.
Gorsuch and his wife, Louise, who is British, met at Oxford. They live in Boulder, Colorado and have two daughters, Emma and Belinda.
Gorsuch has timeshare ownership of a cabin on the headwaters of the Colorado River outside Granby, Colorado with associates of Philip Anschutz. He enjoys the outdoors and fly fishing and on at least one occasion went fly fishing with Justice Scalia. He raises horses, chickens, and goats, and often arranges ski trips with colleagues and friends.
He is the author of two books. His first book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, was published by Princeton University Press in July 2006. He is a co-author of The Law of Judicial Precedent, published by Thomson West in 2016.
Neil and his siblings, brother J.J. and sister Stephanie, were raised as Roman Catholics and attended weekly Mass. Neil Gorsuch later attended Georgetown Preparatory School, a Jesuit school in North Bethesda, Maryland, from which he graduated in 1985.
Gorsuch's wife, Louise, is British-born and the two met while Neil was studying at Oxford. When the couple returned to the United States they started attending an Episcopal parish in Vienna, Virginia. Before his appointment to the Supreme Court, Gorsuch attended St. John's Episcopal Church in Boulder. Gorsuch has not publicly stated if he considers himself a Catholic who attends a Protestant church, or if he has fully converted to Protestantism, but "according to church records, the Gorsuches were members of Holy Comforter", an Episcopal church.
Gorsuch is the recipient of the Edward J. Randolph Award for outstanding service to the Department of Justice, and of the Harry S. Truman Foundation's Stevens Award for outstanding public service in the field of law.