'Judges wear robes, not capes,' Gorsuch says in Federalist Society speech

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

Justice Neil Gorsuch got some laughs as he referred to criticism of the Federalist Society and one of his own court rulings in a speech before the group in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

“You’re a bunch of radicals,” Gorsuch told the group after it greeted him with a standing ovation. He went on to joke about claims that the Federalist Society is a secretive organization working behind the scenes to install like-minded judges and administrative officials.

“If you’re going to have a meeting of a secret organization, maybe don’t have it in the middle of Union Station and then tell everybody to wear a black tie,” Gorsuch said in a remark reported by Law.com (sub. req.) and Politico. CNN also has a story.

Much of Gorsuch’s speech concerned his originalist and textualist views. It’s a judge’s duty to say what the law is, rather than what it should be, Gorush said. “In our legal system, judges wear robes, not capes,” he said.

He made the point by referring to the so-called “frozen trucker case” in which he argued in an appellate dissent that a company could legally fire a trucker who refused an order to stay with his truck after its brakes froze. The trucker had argued he couldn’t wait for a repair vehicle any longer because he was numb and experiencing slurred speech. The case became an issue during Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Gorsuch said good judges often look at a law and realize three things, according to the Law.com account.

“One, the law is telling me to do something really, really stupid,” he said. “Two, the law is constitutional and I have no choice but to do that really stupid thing the law requires. And three, when it’s done, everyone who’s not a lawyer is going to think I just hate truckers.”

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