Last night as the nation watched in expectation President Donald J. Trump
announced from the White House his U.S. Supreme Court nominee. Appearing alongside the president was Judge Neil Gorsuch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, accompanied by his wife.
Judge Gorsuch’s impressive academic credentials include doing his undergraduate studies at Columbia University, receiving his J.D. from Harvard Law School, where he was a classmate of President Barack Obama, and receiving a doctorate in legal philosophy from Oxford University.
It is this last academic endeavor that struck me most, as I soon found out that Gorsuch’s doctoral studies at Oxford were supervised by one of the most eminent living Catholic philosophers in the world, John Finnis.
As a moral and legal philosopher, Finnis has done breakthrough work on natural law and natural rights, and is often identified as the godfather of new-natural law theory, a revitalization of Thomistic natural philosophy as an ethical system. He has written widely on such issues as abortion, gay marriage, and sexual ethics, exuding a pro-life perspective and one that defends the dignity of marriage on the basis of a natural law philosophy.
One of Finnis’ protégé’s, who also did his doctorate under Finnis at Oxford, is the Princeton professor and public intellectual Robert P. George. George, a Catholic scholar, made public this post on his Facebook page about Judge Gorsuch a week before President Trump nominated him:
“Judge Gorsuch is a friend of mine and someone I greatly admire. He would be a superb Supreme Court justice. He is intellectually extremely gifted and is deeply committed to the (actual) Constitution and the rule of law. He will not manufacture “rights” or read things into the Constitution that aren’t there or read things out of the Constitution that are.”
George’s post continued: “Judge Gorsuch’s excellent book, *The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia* is published under my general editorship in the Princeton University Press New Forum Books series. He also contributed a fine essay to a collection of writings in honor of John Finnis that I co-edited with Professor John Keown of Georgetown. Professor Finnis, the eminent Oxford legal and moral philosopher who revitalized the study of natural law in Anglo-American analytical philosophy and jurisprudence, was Judge Gorsuch’s doctoral dissertation supervisor.”
While an Episcopalian, Judge Gorsuch has had a record that should make many Catholics happy. Not only has he opposed assisted suicide and euthanasia, showing respect for the sanctity of human life, but he has also been a supporter of religious liberty.
Writing for America, Michael O’Loughlin explains that Judge Gorsuch has sided with “both Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor in clashes with the Obama administration about provisions of the Affordable Care Act that they argued violated their religious freedom.”
In the same article Judge Gorsuch is quoted as saying, in his book The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, that, “All human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”
In an article for The Federalist, Andrew Walker emphasizes that this is Judge Gorsuch’s main thesis, “His main principle—and the thesis of the book—is that human life is intrinsically valuable and that intentional killing is always wrong. He maintains that refusing unwanted and life-sustaining medical treatment is morally acceptable, but that intentional efforts to accelerate death are immoral.”
Robert George wrote an article in the Washington Post today emphasizing that with the nomination of Judge Gorsuch, “President Trump has without question fulfilled his pledge to appoint a justice in the mold of Antonin Scalia — a conservative intellectual leader.”
In addition to writing of his intellectual achievements, George comment on the character and integrity of Judge Gorsuch, “He’s a faithful husband, a good father, a caring neighbor, a generous friend, a man of probity who holds himself to the highest ethical standards.”
Judge Gorsuch wrote his dissertation about the moral and legal issues surrounding euthanasia and assisted-suicide under John Finnis. Many doctoral students who have worked under Finnis have become his intellectual protégés. Among these are Robert George and John Keown, who have done significant scholarship of approaching moral issues from a Catholic natural law perspective. Perhaps Judge Gorsuch, another protégé of Finnis, will be able to bring such a perspective to the Supreme Court.