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New Justice Must Bring Independence to the Court

A check on executive and legislative power

Marc H. Morial | 2/14/2017, 1:59 p.m.
The United States Supreme Court has played an important role in the progress of the Civil Rights Movement. The executive ...
Marc H. Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, the nation's largest civil rights organization.

“Looming over this moment is the fact that the current Supreme Court vacancy is the result of more than 300 days of tremendous political obstruction that has undermined the integrity of the Court as an institution. Thus, any new Justice must be someone who will restore the standing of the Court, while bringing true independence to the role." -- Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The United States Supreme Court has played an important role in the progress of the Civil Rights Movement. The executive and legislative branches of government have, at times, had to be prodded toward active reform of racial justice. It is the most vulnerable in our society who have the most to gain or lose by any change in the direction of the Supreme Court. That’s why when the new President recently announced his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the court, I vowed that the National Urban League would conduct a thorough review of Gorsuch’s judicial record and public statements to determine whether he is fit to serve on the nation’s highest court.

How might he be expected to decide in a case of such monumental significance as Brown or Loving? At first glance, I have concerns about Gorsuch’s apparent judicial extremism and his criticism of those who have sought advancement of individual rights through the courts.

Gorsuch has consistently ruled against the rights of workers and consumers who were harmed by employers and corporations, and against disabled students pursuing their right to a meaningful education. He has ruled against the rights of workers and consumers who were harmed by employers and corporations, and against disabled students pursuing their right to a meaningful education.

I was especially alarmed by Gorsuch’s ruling in an excessive force claim in which a police used a stun gun to kill a young man suspected of growing marijuana. Gorsuch said the use of force was justified even though “the crime of which he was suspected was not itself a violent one, he was likely to be apprehended eventually and he hadn’t harmed anyone yet.”

The Supreme Court’s function is to serve as a check on the power of Congress and the President. With the current President’s proclivity for authoritarianism, this responsibility is graver than at any time in modern history. Does Gorsuch have the integrity to stand up to the man who appointed him, as circumstances are almost surely to require?

The Enlightenment Age political philosopher Montesquieu, whose work heavily influenced our Founding Fathers, said “There is as yet no liberty if the power of judging be not separated from legislative power and the executive power.” To ensure liberty, we must determine whether Gorsuch can be independent.

Marc H. Morial is president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League.