A Republic If You Can Keep It, Neil Gorsuch, (Crown Forum 2020)

AuthorSeán Hurley
PositionBCL (UCD), LLM (UCL)
[2021] Irish Judicial Studies Journal Vol 5(2)
Neil Gorsuch,
A Republic If You Can Keep It
(Crown Forum
2020) ISBN 9780525576808, 338pp
Author: Seán Hurley, BCL (UCD), LLM (UCL)
In recent years a number of anthologies on the writings and speeches of US Justices have
been published.
A Republic If You Can Keep It by Justice Neil Gorsuch is unique for the fact
that it was published so shortly after the Justice’s elevation to the US Supreme Court. Justice
Gorsuch was inspired to publish this book as a result of the confirmation process he
underwent following his nomination to the Supreme Court. A motivation of the book is to
disavow some of the misapprehensions that materialised during the hearings as to the civic
understanding of the Constitution and the role of the judge in American society. What
follows is not only an excellent primer on the judge’s legal philosophy, but also of the
experiences that have shaped him and the values that animate him.
The Introduction begins by clarifying the reasoning behind the title of the collection. After
the Constitutional Convention, a bystander asked what kind of government the delegates
envisaged. Benjamin Franklin allegedly responded: A republic, if you can keep it.
Gorsuch’s view the solidity of the republic depends on citizens’ comprehension of it and the
role respective actors place in it. In particular, Gorsuch places emphasis on the importance
of judicial restraint; that judges should faithfully (and at times courageously) apply the law
and eschew the temptation to incorporate policy preferences into judgments. Gorsuch is an
adherent of Alexander Hamilton’s oft-quoted phrase that ‘the judge’s job is to exercise
“merely judgment,” not “Force [or] Will.”’
The Introduction also contains some compelling
anecdotes such as when Gorsuch was whisked away down a dirt-track in a neighbour’s car
in an attempt to avoid reporters who were congregating at prospective Supreme Court
Justices’ houses following Donald Trump’s release of the list of potential nominees.
Part 1 focuses on another bedrock concept that Gorsuch believes is necessary for any
republic to flourish: the importance of civics and civility. Gorsuch makes reference to the
crises of civics and civility in modern America. The crises are interconnected in that a
majority of Americans say they pay less attention to politics today because of its incivility.
This trend is regarded as ominous as it could threaten the future of the republic itself. He
references de Tocqueville to illustrate the success of the republic has always been
underpinned by civility: ‘“The manners of the Americans,” he wrote, “are.. the real cause
which renders that people…able to support a democratic government” ’.
Likewise, Gorsuch
regards civility between Justices as essential to a properly functioning Supreme Court:
We eat lunch together regularly and share experiences and laughs along the
way (Justice Breyer seems to possess an endless reservoir of knock -knock
jokes). We flip burgers together at the Court’s annual picnic and celebrate
birthdays and the holidays with song…And whenever we gather for work,
See for example Ruth Bader Ginsburg, My Own Words (Simon & Schuster 2016), and Christoper J Scalia and
Edward Whelan (eds), Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived (Cr own Forum 2017).
Neil Gorsuch, A Republic If You Can Keep It (Crown Forum 2020) 8.
ibid 10.
ibid 31.
ibid 32.

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