Conservative judge worries Reform Jews

Orthodox Union official lauds Gorsuch for his "record in religious liberty cases."

By JTA
February 1, 2017 23:26
3 minute read.
PROTESTERS RALLY outside the US Supreme Court against President Donald Trump’s nominee for the bench

PROTESTERS RALLY outside the US Supreme Court against President Donald Trump’s nominee for the bench, in Washington on Tuesday. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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NEW YORK – Reform Jewish organizations expressed their concerns with President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

If confirmed, Gorsuch would replace one of the court’s most stalwart conservatives, Antonin Scalia, who died last year.

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“We are greatly troubled by Judge Gorsuch’s record, which suggests that he may not have the attributes and values a nominee to the Supreme Court ought to have in order to mete out justice and interpret the lMws that affect us all,” a statement issued by Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner on behalf of a number of the Reform Movement’s umbrella bodies read. “We look forward to engaging in the confirmation process to further evaluate Judge Gorsuch’s views on issues of core importance to the Reform Movement, including civil rights, separation of church and state, religious freedom, women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, and many more.”

Pesner added that, either way, “it is also absolutely crucial that whomever joins the highest court in the land is a person who will defend the Constitution, promote equal rights and opportunity for all and approach legal interpretation with the reverence and care it deserves.

“Unless President Trump’s nominee meets all of these criteria and clarifies his views in confirmation hearings, we have significant reservations about his confirmation to be a Supreme Court justice,” he added.

On the other side of the Jewish spectrum, however, Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Orthodox Union, who attended Harvard Law School at the same time as Gorsuch, said he is “encouraged by his record in religious liberty cases – the area of Constitutional law of paramount concern to the Orthodox Jewish community.”

His opinions in some of these cases, Diament added, shows a “jurisprudential approach that venerates religious conscience and pluralism in American society.”

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Bend the Arc, a liberal social action group, also said it is “deeply concerned” by Gorsuch’s record.

Among Gorsuch’s opinions, the one attracting most Jewish interest is Burwell vs Hobby Lobby in 2013, when the appeals court upheld the right of a private business to reject the government mandate to provide contraceptive care under employee health plans.

The Obama administration had offered leeway on such coverage to faith-based nonprofits, but would not extend them to private businesses.

Gorsuch joined the majority in the appeals court ruling, which was upheld the next year by the Supreme Court. Liberal Jewish groups backed the government in the case, while Orthodox Jewish groups favored Hobby Lobby. Gorsuch has also favored displays of crosses on public lands, and has tended in his rulings toward the rights of gun owners, in favor of the death penalty and against abortion rights.

The Interfaith Alliance, which describes itself as “the faith-based voice countering the radical Right and promoting the positive role of religion,” also voiced opposition to the nomination, saying that, as a federal judge, Gorsuch supported religious discrimination.

“Religious freedom is not a license to discriminate,” the statement read.

“Unfortunately, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch seems to believe otherwise.”

The alliance added that “as a federal judge, he ruled on two of the most consequential religious freedom cases in recent years, and both times he opposed genuine religious freedom.

Instead, he empowered groups seeking to force their religious beliefs onto others.

“Senators must carefully examine Judge Gorsuch’s views and record to determine whether he would uphold religious freedom for all Americans, regardless of faith. We cannot afford as a nation to put our first freedom at risk,” the group concluded.

Trump’s Supreme Court nomination is likely to face a fight, with Democrats suggesting they may filibuster his nomination. Democrats are still stung by the refusal of Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to allow a hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, Merrick Garland, a moderate judge. Garland, had he been confirmed, would have brought to a record four the number of Jewish justices on the court.

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