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Healthcare Implications of Trump's Supreme Court Pick, Neil Gorsuch


On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced that he would nominate federal judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat, which could have important implications for healthcare-related cases.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced that he would nominate federal judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant since Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016. If confirmed, Gorsuch will bring his conservative legal views to the nation’s highest court, which could have important implications for healthcare-related cases.

Gorsuch, who has served on the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals since his 2006 appointment by George W. Bush, is known as a judicial originalist and a textualist who interprets the Constitution in a manner similar to Scalia. His prior legal opinions on healthcare cases indicate he believes strongly in religious freedom and the sanctity of life.

His 2006 book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, justified bans on assisted suicide and euthanasia by presenting legal and moral arguments against the practices, arguing that states have the responsibility to place “paternalistic constraints on the choices of its citizens.” The Supreme Court has refused to ban assisted suicide nationwide in prior rulings, but Gorsuch would likely vote against the aid-in-dying laws passed recently in several states if such a case reached the Court.

Although he has never publically written an opinion on Roe v Wade, a line from his book on assisted suicide hinted strongly at his feelings about abortion, as he wrote that “all human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.” The current balance of justices on the Supreme Court makes it extremely unlikely for the ruling to be overturned even if Gorsuch is confirmed, but if any of the liberal justices retires or dies during Trump’s term, the president could appoint another conservative who would push the court towards overruling the 1973 decision.

Gorsuch’s conservatism is also demonstrated by his prior rulings on contraception coverage and Planned Parenthood funding. In the Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc case, he voted that the craft store should not be required to provide employees insurance coverage for contraceptives as required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), framing the contraceptive mandate as a matter of religious freedom.

“The ACA’s mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct what their religion teaches to be gravely wrong,” he wrote in his decision. The case later proceeded to the Supreme Court, which upheld the circuit court’s ruling that the contraceptive mandate should be eliminated.

In October 2016, Gorsuch dissented with the circuit court’s decision not to rehear a case that had been decided in favor of Planned Parenthood. The earlier ruling concluded that Utah Governor Gary Herbert violated the Constitution when he defunded Planned Parenthood, but Gorsuch argued in his dissent that Herbert’s decision was justified because he had viewed misleadingly edited videos of Planned Parenthood employees negotiating sales of fetal tissue.

“It is undisputed that when the Governor announced his decision to discontinue funding he contemporaneously explained that his decision came in direct response to the videos,” Gorsuch wrote. “And it is undisputed, too, that the Governor was free as a matter of law to suspend the funding in question for this reason.”

Shortly after Trump announced Gorsuch’s nomination, Senate Democrats scrutinized his record, including his stances on health-related cases like the contraceptive ruling.

"Judge Gorsuch has repeatedly sided with corporations over working people, demonstrated a hostility toward women's rights, and most troubling, hewed to an ideological approach to jurisprudence that makes me skeptical that he can be a strong, independent justice on the court," said Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, in a statement.

Since Trump’s election, Democrats have vowed to staunchly oppose his Supreme Court nominee, partly due to lingering resentments over Republicans’ refusal to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama to fill Scalia’s seat. Gorsuch must garner 60 Senate votes to be confirmed, unless Republicans follow through with threats to eliminate the filibuster.

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