Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch acknowledged Friday that there is “a lot of skepticism about the rule of law” in the country but defended the United States judicial system as “a blessing” and “a remarkable gift” during a talk at Harvard University.
The court’s newest justice marveled that in America “nine old people in polyester black robes” and other judges can safely decide cases according to their conscience and that the government can lose cases without resorting to the use of armed force to impose its will.
“That is a heritage that is very, very special,” he said. “It’s a remarkable gift. Travel elsewhere. See how judges live. See whether they feel free to express themselves.”
Gorsuch, made the comments during his first public appearance since joining the high court in a conversation with fellow Justice Stephen Breyer at Harvard University.
Gorsuch said that particularly in tumultuous times it’s important to convince the next generation “that the project (of justice) is worth it because many of them have grave doubts.”
“I think there is a lot of skepticism about the rule of law, but I see it day in and day out in the trenches — the adversarial process of lawyers coming to court and shaking hands before and after, the judges shaking hands as we do, before we ascend to the bench,” he said. “That’s how we resolve our differences in this society.”
Gorsuch, who was nominated to the high court earlier this year by Republican President Donald Trump, said he believes there is still confidence in the judicial system. He said that 95 percent of all cases are decided in the trial court, while only 5 percent are appealed, and the Supreme Court hears about 80 cases in a good year.
Of those, about 40 percent are decided unanimously by the nine-member court.
Breyer, who was nominated by former Democratic President Bill Clinton, echoed that respect for the law — even when a ruling is disappointing.
He pointed to his dissent in the case of Bush v. Gore that helped decide the 2000 election in favor of former Republican President George W. Bush and against Democratic candidate Al Gore.
“It was wrong in my opinion, OK, but people followed it,” Breyer said. “They did not go out and throw stones or shoot other people.”
Both Gorsuch and Breyer said the U.S. judicial system owes a debt of gratitude to Britain.
Gorsuch said the founding fathers were trying to preserve common law against a tyrannical king.
“Our constitution was aimed at preserving, not preventing, certain civil liberties,” he said.
He added about the justice system: “This project is worth your life. It’s your life’s work.”
The event was sponsored in part by the Harvard Marshall Forum.
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