President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, addressing media during a meeting with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), on February 1, 2017. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)
While pundits across the country parse Neil Gorsuch’s record of jurisprudence from his decade on the federal bench, professors and students at the University of Colorado Law School are praising the man they say is decent, fair and highly intelligent — even if they don’t agree with his political viewpoints.
Gorsuch, nominated by President Donald Trump to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, has taught as a visiting professor at the Boulder, Colorado, law school since 2008, two years after he was named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in Denver. (He lives just outside of Boulder — for now). He has taught legal ethics and professionalism, antitrust law and federal courts, typically handling one course a semester.
“Judge Gorsuch was, and is, extremely well-regarded by our students,” said Colorado law professor Frederic Bloom. ”He taught challenging classes in an unapologetically demanding way — and students liked it. His smarts, his talent, his affability, and his analytical rigor always shined through.”
What also stood out was his ban of laptops in the classroom. He forbade students in his legal ethics class from using computers — an unusual move within law schools, where laptops are ubiquitous.
The computer exile was intended to eliminate distractions, boost engagement, and prompt students to listen carefully to each other, according to Jordan Henry, a second-year Colorado law student who took Gorsuch’s course last semester. And it was so effective that Henry voluntarily stopped using her laptop on several other classes.
“When you close the computers and get rid of distractions in class, you respond to each other and bring up counterpoints,” she said. “It makes for a true discussion and a much more engaged class — and frankly a more interesting class.”
Henry, who describes herself as very liberal and spent the past weekend at an airport representing those affected by Trump’s travel ban, said she always felt comfortable expressing her views in class, despite Gorsuch’s conservative bent.
“Obviously he’s a very public figure,” she said. “We knew his beliefs — what he feels about a lot of issues. But as a professor he distanced himself from that and argued all sides. If you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t know what he believes from his presentations in class. He encouraged us to speak our minds.”
Gorsuch was teaching antitrust law this semester, but was replaced by another professor amid his nomination, said school spokeswoman Keri Ungemah.
Students and recent Colorado Law graduates applauded his nomination. Savannah Schaefer, who graduated from Colorado Law last year, told the Denver Post that Gorsuch is a “phenomenal guy and just brilliant.”
University of Colorado Boulder chancellor Philip DiStefano publicly congratulated Gorsuch on his nomination Jan. 31. “His time spent teaching, advising, and mentoring our students has been invaluable to our campus,” DiStefano said in a prepared statement. “He has embodied our goals at CU Boulder for ensuring student success and developing tomorrow’s leaders.”
Gorsuch completed his Juris Doctor at Harvard Law School in 1991, but he has family ties to Colorado Law. His parents, David Gorsuch and Anne Gorsuch Burford, both graduated from the Boulder law school in 1964.
He was paid $26,000 by the law school in 2015, according to his financial disclosure from that year, which listed upward of $3 million in assets.
Gorsuch assumed a mentor role with his students, Henry said, and urged them to take on pro bono work.
“He often encouraged us to find passions outside of the law, to learn how to win and lose graciously, to develop friendships in law school that we maintain throughout our lives, and to remember why we went to law school in the first place,” Henry said. “You could tell it meant something to him to be in a classroom full of young legal minds, and hopefully give back to the future of the legal profession.”