“Against that backdrop, questions about the court’s independence and role as a check on the executive branch are sure to dominate Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, which will find Democrats on the offensive and under increasing pressure to block or deny the nomination outright ― much like Republicans obstructed the nomination of Merrick Garland, the highly respected appeals court judge President Barack Obama chose to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.
If confirmed, Gorsuch, 49, would bring to the bench a conservative record that will be forever measured against that of Scalia, a towering firebrand of legal conservatism whose death last year forced Trump to issue not one but two lists of potential nominees he’d choose if elected. The lists ― largely assembled with the help of conservative brain trusts ― helped assuage supporters’ fears that Trump might not nominate judges who are conservative enough.
Conservatives need not worry. Gorsuch is an intellectual rising star ― a well-spoken and eloquent writer who enraptures Republican and Libertarian lawyers and law students who come to see him at conferences organized by the Federalist Society, a group that helped Trump put together his Supreme Court wish list.
. . . .
“One key concurring [sic] opinion that earned Gorsuch high praise from conservative commentators was in an immigration case decided last year in which Gorsuch staked out a strong position against the administrative state ― and the way the Supreme Court has made it easier for agencies to interpret laws that judges are better suited to interpret.
“That’s a problem for the judiciary,” Gorsuch wrote in Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch. “And it is a problem for the people whose liberties may now be impaired not by an independent decisionmaker seeking to declare the law’s meaning as fairly as possible — the decisionmaker promised to them by law — but by an avowedly politicized administrative agent seeking to pursue whatever policy whim may rule the day.”
Administrative law isn’t exactly an area activists will rally around, but the high court hears a number of cases in which agencies are front and center ― whether the controversy is about transgender rights, health care, the environment or immigration. In that regard, Gorsuch could be skeptical of how the Trump administration ― and future administrations ― reads the law as it exists on the books.” [emphasis added]
Judge Gorsuch Understands — Why It’s High Time For Chevron “Judicial Task Avoidance” To Go
by Paul Wickham Schmidt
I haven’t studied Judge Gorsuch’s opinions enough to make any definitive judgement. But, I really enjoyed his opinion in Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, 834 F.3d 1142 (10th Cir. 2016). He “gets it” about the current problems of “deferring to administrative courts like the BIA and the U.S. Immigration Court which are subject to interference and pressure from the Executive, which “owns” them, to implement certain pro-government policies at the expense of fairness and due process for the individual.
Contrary to the HuffPost report above, Judge Gorsuch wrote the unanimous opinion of the court, not a “concurring” opinion. In it, he exposed the illogic of the Supreme Court’s so-called “Chevron doctrine.”
Chevron is a masterful piece of of Article III “judicial task avoidance” by the Supreme Court. It requires Federal Courts to “defer” to “captive” Executive Branch administrative judges, like the BIA, on important questions of law. It also allows life-tenured Article III judges to avoid deciding difficult or potentially controversial issues.
In other words, as recognized by Judge Gorsuch, Chevron provides “cover” for Article III judges to avoid their sole constitutional responsibility of independently resolving legal questions. Judge Gorsuch and his colleagues found that Chevron did not apply in the particular circumstance before them. The BIA had ignored both common sense and due process in trying to reach a result favorable to the Government. The 10th Circuit reversed the BIA (for the third time in the same case).
Whatever the merits or demerits of the rest of his jurisprudence, I am encouraged that Judge Gorsuch recognizes the critical role of an independent Article III judiciary. He is also “on to” the problems of over-relying on administrative judges, like the BIA and U.S. Immigration Judges, who work for the Executive and therefore can be subject to Executive rules and pressures that can, and sometimes do, unfairly skew results against individuals seeking justice in administrative courts.
Consequently, Judge Gorsuch should resist attempts by the Trump Administration to short-cut due process in the Immigration Courts and, hopefully, will encourage his colleagues to look closely to insure that individuals are being treated fairly in accordance with the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. If at some point Chevron and it’s even more pernicious progeny known as “Brand X” — which incredibly encourages administrative courts to “overrule” Article III courts on questions of law — go down the drain, the country and the cause of justice will be well-served. And, Article III judges will be required to once again fully earn the salaries to which their life-tenure entitles them.
Read Judge Gorsuch’s full opinion in Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch below.