There was a moment during the Neil Gorsuch SCOTUS hearing last week that was more revealing than any other as to the character of the man who will very likely be confirmed, even if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is forced by Democrats to change the rules and go nuclear to stop the filibuster.
On the 3rd day of the hearing, after nearly two nine-hour days of sitting at a table being questioned by friendly Republicans and harassed by unfriendly Democrats, Gorsuch displayed a kindness to an attendee of the hearing — likely a staffer of a Senate Judiciary panel member — who let out a sneeze. At the sound, Gorsuch, in the middle of explaining his thoughts on the right to privacy of the terminally ill (as he laid it out in a book he had written on assisted suicide), turned his head toward the itchy-nosed person and said, without breaking stride, “God bless you,” before promptly getting back to the matter at hand.
It was a small thing when compared to all the other memorable moments from the hearing; small enough perhaps that some may feel it not worth noting. There was, after all, a lot going on in that Senate hearing room last week. From Gorsuch’s repeated assertions that he would adhere to the rule of law rather than his own personal opinions when passing judgement from the bench (Senate Dems were determined to paint him a conservative activist but he deftly defeated them at every turn); to the borderline rude and certainly disrespectful lines of questioning from Democrats (the behavior of Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono and Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse was particularly appalling); to Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s largely successful attempts at levity (“You just said bigly and I just won $5,” Sasse said at one point); the hearing had it all.
Gorsuch did so well explaining the benefits of textualism and originalism when interpreting precedent and the Constitution — which he called paying deference to the words that are actually on the page, not making up new words to accommodate a political or policy outcome — he left those same Democratic Senators with nothing but weak protestations that Gorsuch was in favor of corporate interests over the “little guy.” It was a non-sequitur, but it was all they had.
And he was so consistent and respectful, that opinion pieces have taken to denying him support, but not blaming him for it. To do otherwise would seem monstrous in the face of the kind of character on display by the Colorado Judge who some say may have learned at the knee of Kennedy, but will likely rule in the vein of Scalia.
But with all that went on last week, Gorsuch’s immediate, and obviously habitual, graciousness to someone who sneezed was a moment worth noting. And here’s why:
This country has just come through arguably one of the most contentious elections it has yet seen. Opposition to Gorsuch is absurd given his bi-partisan support, his qualifications, and his qualities as a man, and yet come it will. If for no other reason, because opposition has become the flavor of politics in recent years. It sells. The Republicans are even being obstructionist and playing opposition to themselves on the healthcare law. Agree with the wisdom of that approach or not, it smacks of a lack of cohesion and a lack of willingness to work together.
So Neil Gorsuch, next Supreme Court Justice, being, for all the other remarkable things he is, a kind man, is a very, very heartening thing to see. And it perhaps signals a move in a better, more collegial direction. After all, united, as the famous words go, is how we stand.