If an Arizonan were to walk up the Supreme Court’s steps, past its marble columns and into its stately courtroom, they would find eight justices seated before them, along with an empty chair. While the chair was left vacant by the passing of renowned Justice Antonin Scalia, it also symbolizes a stark reality: the absence of a Westerner on the court.
Seven of the Supreme Court’s justices hail from the concrete jungles of New York and New Jersey, or the costal enclaves of California, and all are products of the Ivy League. Not a single one of them can call the West’s windswept mesas, rugged mountains, or expansive rangelands home.
In a country that prides itself on representative government, it would seem that Westerners – folks like you and me – should have a western voice on our highest court.
It hasn’t always been this way. As recently as a decade ago, Arizona’s very own Sandra Day O’Connor served with distinction as an associate justice.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and more importantly as an Arizonan, I cannot overstate the importance of confirming a fellow Westerner to the Supreme Court. We need a justice who understands our cultural and regional sensibilities, and who will restore a western perspective to a court desperately lacking in geographic diversity.
Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, fits the bill.
When I had the opportunity to meet with Judge Gorsuch in my office last month, we discussed our respective western roots. I reminisced about my days growing up on a cattle ranch in northern Arizona, and he confided that his heart has always been in the American West.
You can learn a lot about a person from how they like to spend their free time, and on this count there’s no mistaking it with Judge Gorsuch: he’s a Westerner through and through.
You’re just as likely to run into Neil at the rodeo with his daughters or fly-fishing with his buddies as you are to catch him at a staid legal conference. I should note that he holds degrees from Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford – but I won’t hold it against him.
Judge Gorsuch’s Western values are also evident in his career choices, which have reflected the same service ethos as one of Arizona’s favorite sons.
Much like the late Senator Barry Goldwater, Judge Gorsuch left behind the comforts of a lucrative private sector career for life as a public servant. As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, he’s been a staunch defender of religious liberty and the constitutional separation of powers.
Like millions of his fellow Westerners, Judge Gorsuch shares a healthy skepticism of our excessively intrusive and heavy-handed federal bureaucracy. He recognizes how federal regulations interfere with the sovereign rights of Western states to govern themselves – whether it’s the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan, its ozone rules, or even management of the Mexican gray wolf.
In numerous opinions, Judge Gorsuch’s Western disposition has shone through, giving voice to many of the frustrations experienced by folks like us in Arizona. From his criticism of the overly assertive D.C. court’s compulsion to intervene from 2,000 miles away, to his navigation of complex split-estate property rights litigation, he speaks our language.
If confirmed, Judge Gorsuch would already bring generational and religious diversity to the court. But perhaps more than anything, it would be his Western perspective that would most enrich the debate in the years to come.
This week the Senate Judiciary Committee held its confirmation hearings for Judge Gorsuch. Just as I did at the hearings, and as I have repeatedly done from the Senate floor, I will continue to make the case to my colleagues that he is an accomplished, mainstream jurist who deserves fair consideration and an up-or-down vote.
Judge Gorsuch should be confirmed overwhelmingly, and I am confident that he will be. I look forward to casting my vote to finally put a Westerner back on the Supreme Court.