Students & Parents | General Education

Who is ‘SCOTUS’? Why millennials should care about Gorsuch

March 27, 2017 by Ron Meyer

Thanks to Netflix, many millennials have seen “The West Wing,” and if they’ve seen the first episode, they know who “POTUS” is. Unfortunately, no similar pop-culture references exist to inform millennials what SCOTUS is, who they are, or what they do, or what Judge Neil Gorsuch has to do with any of it.

When Jimmy Kimmel asked millennials on the streets of New York CIty how they felt about President Trump nominating Rob Kardashian to the Supreme Court, they took the question seriously. About 10 percent of college graduates think Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court, according to a poll from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. A recent C-SPAN poll shows just 27 percent of millennials can name one Supreme Court Justice.

So, how do millennials feel about Gorsuch? Any pollster who thinks they have the answer is lying. Most millennials couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. They couldn’t tell you his positions on key issues. But, while this ignorance is easy to mock, it’s reasonable to understand: no one has given them a reason to care about Gorsuch or SCOTUS.

Why should they care?

While I can list off the clichés — civic duty, national pride, caring about the future — none of these will be convincing to millennials. Sure, they are important, but virtue signaling comes off as condescension to younger Americans, especially those who are busy working their tails off to pay their student loans.

Should it be because of the issues they care about? Sure, but millennials’ opinions aren’t monolithic. Some have argued abortion, gay marriage, and climate change are the only Supreme Court issues that millennials might care about.

But even on these, it’s not crystal clear. Millennials are more pro-life than any other generation has been at their age. Gay marriage is recently settled precedent and won’t be overturned. Many of the climate regulations signed by President Barack Obama’s executive orders make little measurable impact on global temperatures.

Two issues millennials care about that Gorsuch will affect on the Supreme Court are criminal justice reform and privacy rights — both issues where Gorsuch is much more in line with millennials than general Republican orthodoxy. Frankly, he may be out of line with the president who nominated him.

Even liberals see these trends. Slate’s Leon Neyfakh said Gorsuch’s career has had “flashes of humanity.” Gorsuch’s view of the Constitution is much more in line with criminal justice reform and support for the Fourth Amendment than average Republican-leaning jurists.

Millennials care about criminal justice reform because of what they see as a biased system that disproportionately imprisons more minorities for minor charges, rather than enforcing true equal treatment under the law. And on privacy rights, use of technology drives millennials’ skepticism of government intrusion and surveillance.

In United States v. Games-Perez, he wrote a dissenting opinion saying that it is unfair to convict people for laws they didn’t know they were breaking, saying, “People sit in prison because our circuit’s case law allows the government to put them there without proving a statutorily specified element of the charged crime.” In A.M. v. Holmes, Gorsuch wrote a dissenting opinion that police should not be allowed to arrest students for “burping in class.” In United States v. Carloss, Gorsuch’s dissenting opinion opposing the warrantless “knock and talk” tactics used by ATF agents to search properties without warrants.

In a 2006 speech, he also said, “What happens to individual freedom and equality when the criminal law comes to cover so many facets of daily life that prosecutors can almost choose their targets with impunity?”

This small sampling of comments and opinions demonstrate a divergence from more traditionally conservative jurists that millennials should appreciate. They deviate from those who favor more power for law enforcement and choose safety over privacy without compromise. More of these cases will likely be brought before the Supreme Court than any time in recent memory.

These issues aren’t flashy, but they affect our neighbors, our property, and our cell phones. In an era when politicians on both sides of the aisle support rolling back these constitutional protections, young Americans should appreciate that Gorsuch will be with them on personal liberty and civil liberties — even if they think Gorsuch will be serving with Judge Judy and Justice Kardashian.


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