When asked during his confirmation hearings Tuesday about his future legacy, Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch delivered a two-minute monologue that began with his description of an assignment he often gives his legal ethics students at the University of Colorado in which he asks them to write their obituary.
“And then I’ll ask if they’ll volunteer to read some of them,” he told Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. “And people want to be remembered for the kindnesses they showed other people, by and large.”
“What I try to point out is, it’s not how big your bank account balance is, nobody ever puts that in their draft obituary, or that they billed the most hours, or that they won the most cases,” he continued. “It’s how they treated other people along the way. And for me, it’s the words I read yesterday from Increase Sumner’s tombstone.”
Sumner was a lawyer, jurist and politician who served on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1782 to 1797. Included on his tombstone is a touching epitaph that reads as follows:
“As a lawyer, he was faithful and able. As a judge, patient, impartial, and decisive. In private life he was affectionate and mild. In public life he was dignified and firm. Party feuds were allayed by the correctness of his conduct. Calumny was silenced by the weight of his virtues, and rancor softened by the amenity of his manners.”
Continuing his reply, Gorsuch said, “And that means as a person, I’d like to be remembered as a good dad, a good husband, kind and mild in private life, dignified and firm in public life.”
“And I have no illusions that I’ll be remembered for very long. If Byron White is as nearly forgotten as he is now, as he said he would be, I have no illusions, I won’t last five minutes; that’s as it should be.”
White was a football legend who went on to became one of the longest serving justices on the Supreme Court until he passed in 2002.
“The great joy in life, Shaw said, is devoting yourself to a cause you deem mighty before you are thrown on the scrap heap,” Gorsuch continued, referencing the famous Irish playwright, critic and polemicist George Bernard Shaw.
“This is the true joy in life — the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy,” Shaw once said.
“An independent judiciary in this country, I can carry that baton for as long as I can carry it, and I have no illusions I’m going to last as long as you suggest, and that’ll be good enough for me,” the Supreme Court nominee concluded.
The hearings were expected to last two to three more days.
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