Trump's Supreme Court Pick Will Be No Friend to Atheists

Neil Gorsuch has a track record of ruling in favor of faith.


Speculation is already flying that President Donald Trump will choose Judge Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee, a move that will concern anyone looking at government’s role in religion.

George W. Bush appointed Gorsuch, a conservative Colorado judge, to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2006, and if he ends up sitting on the nation’s highest court, his record shows he’ll be largely hostile to atheists and other nonreligious interests.

Trump revealed on Twitter on Tuesday that he plans to announce his nominee for the Supreme Court next Thursday, February 2.

Eric Canton of SCOTUSblog described Gorsuch as “a particularly incisive legal writer,” and seems like a pick who will keep up the spirit with which the late Justice Antonin Scalia cast his opinions.

Like Scalia, Gorsuch has built up a notable judicial history of ruling in favor of “religious liberty” over secular interests, something that will be cause for concern for atheists and other religious-nones throughout America — assuming Trump manages to force him through a likely Democratic filibuster, that is.

Most notably, Gorsuch ruled in favor of religion when the famous Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius case, involving an exception to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provision, reached his court. He also joined in a dissent in Summum v. Pleasant Grove City, which was a case involving the government’s ability to display a donated Ten Commandments monument outside a courthouse while refusing to accept donated monuments from other religious denominations. The 10th Circuit’s ruling in Summum was overturned by the Supreme Court, which used the rationale from that very dissent in its opinion.

And the implications could be even farther reaching than that. With other “religious freedom” laws, which allow for businesses to deny their products and services to LGBTQ individuals — or laws like North Carolina’s anti-transgender bathroom law — making their way through the Court system, Gorsuch’s presence on the bench doesn’t bode well for these causes.

On cases involving climate change and the environment, there is also reason to worry. Gorsuch’s mother, Anne Gorsuch, was nominated head of the EPA by Ronald Reagan. Scholars Thomas P. Lyon and John W. Maxwell remark in their book, Corporate Environmentalism and Public Policy, that Anne Gorsuch “was widely perceived as a handmaiden to industry.” The Senate, in fact, voted 74-19 that Reagan should withdraw her nomination to be the Chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere because she did so poorly at the EPA. Given his proclivities towards religious conservative viewpoints, Neil Gorsuch can be expected to take a position on the environment that is not at all dissimilar to his mother’s: That it’s ours and there for the taking.

From a strategic perspective, Gorsuch is a solid choice for Trump. His nomination would serve to placate critics who worry that his lip service to the Bible and Christianity is cynical and designed only to appease the religious right. Gorsuch would be a gift to that demographic, one who would help orient American judicial doctrine in favor of religious interests for a long time, even as the general population moves in the opposite direction.

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