Gorsuch Confirmation Hearings Don’t Allay AU’s Concerns

Yesterday concluded the four-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for President Donald J. Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.

As we’ve written before, Gorsuch’s history as a federal appeals court judge indicates that he does not support true religious freedom. His performance during the hearings did nothing to allay our concerns.

While Supreme Court nominees are notoriously tight-lipped during their confirmation hearings, Gorsuch was especially opaque. Given his record, it’s no surprise that religious freedom came up during the hearing. Needless to say, he didn’t say anything that changed our minds. Here are few examples:                 

Discrimination against women and LGBTQ people in the name of religion: Gorsuch was one of the judges who heard the Hobby Lobby case before it went to the Supreme Court. He and his colleagues sided with the craft store chain,  saying that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), corporations must receive a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide health insurance that covers birth control without a co-pay.

This case and its troubling results came up throughout the hearing. Religious freedom guarantees us the freedom to believe or not, as we see fit. It does not, however, give us the right to act on our beliefs in ways that use the power of government to harm others. In Hobby Lobby, Gorsuch ignored this and okayed an exemption for the corporations even though it resulted in real harm for women who lost insurance coverage for vital medical services.

Here’s just one exchange: U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) grilled Gorsuch on his views and then reminded him that allowing religious beliefs of employers to block access to healthcare in Hobby Lobby harmed 13,000 workers.

People unwilling to accept advances in LGBTQ rights, women’s equality, and reproductive health want to redefine religious freedom so that they can use their religious beliefs as an excuse to deny health care, refuse to provide services, and disobey laws protecting Americans from discrimination and abuse. Gorsuch’s position in Hobby Lobby signal that he may let them.

And that came up at the hearing too. Here’s Human Rights Campaign’s Legal Director Sarah Warbelow explaining how Gorsuch’s views in Hobby Lobby are dangerous for LGBTQ people and could lead to discrimination.

Muslim ban: When U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Gorsuch about whether a religious litmus test can be used to limit immigration and mentioned Trump’s Muslim ban, Gorsuch would not give a clear answer. No one should be singled out for discrimination because of their religious beliefs, but Gorsuch refused to acknowledge that doing so betrays American values and violates the Constitution. Americans United has been fighting the Muslim ban in court because it violates religious freedom. Treating one faith as second-class and favoring others, like Muslim ban does, threatens all faiths and the religious freedom that protects us all.

Church-state separation: Gorsuch told U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), that separation of church and state “is a very difficult area, doctrinally.” In fact, he’s gotten it wrong on more than one occasion. In two cases, Gorsuch wrote opinions supporting government-sponsored religious displays. True religious freedom means that the government cannot promote or endorse religion, let alone impose religion on anyone. Gorsuch’s views in these cases, however, show that this fundamental principle of religious freedom may be at stake.

Gorsuch didn’t say much during his hearing, but that didn’t allay our concerns. His record demonstrates that he’s a threat to true religious freedom. That’s why we are fighting back.

During his confirmation hearing, AU staff members joined allies and senators in urging the Senate to vote no on Gorsuch’s confirmation as the next Supreme Court justice. We also sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging them to vote no on his confirmation. You can learn more about why we oppose Gorsuch here.

You can fight back, too, by calling or emailing your senators to oppose Gorsuch’s confirmation.