Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Matt Markey


Fly fisherman on court seems like supreme choice

It can’t hurt to have avid outdoorsman on bench

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    Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, right, an avid outdoorsman, went fly fishing in his native Colorado with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the man Gorsuch would replace.

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Six weeks ago when President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, before we were even quite sure how to spell this man’s name or pronounce it, the long knives were brandished and his character, pedigree, and judicial record were under attack.

Sadly, that seems to be the modus operandi of this era. React to anything and everything in knee-jerk, lightning-strike fashion and shoot from the hip with both guns blazing. Anchor yourself in a harsh and strident position and scream so loudly that you hear nothing but your own voice.

Less than an hour after Judge Gorsuch’s name was announced, some parties were mounting the full frontal assault, absent of any pertinent facts or broad background information. How are we supposed to exchange ideas, engage in vigorous yet respectful debate, and then find some kind of understanding after all of that vitriol is splattered all over the place? There is little potential for civility in a torrent of toxicity.

Every day I read a number of newspapers, listen to both news and commentary on the radio and on television, and have been diagnosed many times as a fairly chronic news junkie. But I knew very little about Judge Gorsuch, so I sought to purge the deck of all of the partisan diatribes and see what I could find out about the person.

I quickly learned that besides being an Ivy League educated jurist, he is armed with what many in the ranks consider a brilliant legal mind. Although some disagreed with a ruling here and there, I never saw a rational comment that claimed he was unfair or unreasonable in his decisions.

It also was nice to find out the judge is an avid fly fisherman, and a fourth-generation Coloradan who considers the outdoors an essential part of a good living environment. That is a plus for anyone — be they a judge, tax accountant, computer programmer, or custodian.

When President George W. Bush chose Judge Gorsuch to fill a post on the 10th Circuit Court a decade ago, Judge Gorsuch left Washington and returned to his native Colorado, where he lives on a farm with his wife and two daughters. They have horses, chickens, goats, a couple of dogs, and a barn cat. You might have to live on a farm to know this, but a barn cat is an essential part of the team because livestock feed draws mice in from neighboring zip codes and beyond.

Judge Gorsuch is the son of Anne Gorsuch, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency from 1981-83. When she was nominated as the first woman to lead the EPA, she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. Judge Gorsuch’s mother passed away in 2004 from cancer at the age of 62.

I also learned that the judge’s wife, Louise, is British, and they met while he was studying at Oxford, where she was a champion equestrian.

Judge Gorsuch was raised a Roman Catholic but later became an Episcopalian. If confirmed to the Supreme Court, he would be the only Protestant on a court that currently has five Catholic and three Jewish justices. Being from the Rockies, Judge Gorsuch would also bring a unique Western U.S. regional perspective to the court. All of the current justices have East Coast roots.

He has made no secret of his passion for the outdoors, specifically fly fishing, hunting, and skiing. He went on a fly fishing trip in Colorado with the late Justice Justice Antonin Scalia, the man Judge Gorsuch has been tapped to replace. Justice Scalia captioned a photo from that outing: “Fond memories of a day on the Colorado, with warm regards.”

Judge Gorsuch has also been a part owner of a 40-acre property tucked up against the headwaters of the Colorado River, high in the mountains northwest of Denver.

By owning both sides of the riverbank, his group has the rights to what has been referred to as a secluded “private fishery.”

Such ownership arrangements are not unique at all, especially in some prime trout waters. Serious fly fishermen with the financial capability are often not hesitant to put their money where their caddis patterns are.

As we go through the confirmation process, I fully expect the fly fisherman, family man, and small-scale farmer to have his character assaulted from 19 different directions, because sadly, that seems to be the way we do business in Washington these days.

The same guy who was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate just a decade ago for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit will now be labeled as an extremist by many of the same people who took part in that unanimous confirmation vote.

If he was late coming back from recess one day in fifth grade, that will be brought up. If he once failed to latch the gate and a horse got loose momentarily, that could disqualify him with some.

If one of his hundreds of rulings over a long and decorated career as a jurist is somehow warped through the prism of political correctness and deemed to be “insensitive” by the self-appointed Pharisees of thought, he will be condemned by their chorus.

When his name first came up, I chose to tune out the grenade-throwers and learn something about the man. If he is a fly fisherman, which clearly is not one of the issues in dispute, then Judge Gorsuch must be blessed with patience. He likely has an analytical mind, because every trout stream presents its own unique set of mysteries and no clear-cut set of directions.

I expect the judge is calm and not prone to emotional peaks and valleys because, again, those rides do not serve the fly fisherman well. He very likely desires to take in the full breadth of the issue before making any type of decision, because that kind of methodical, incremental process is a plus for the fly angler.

The view from well outside the political cauldron provides a more full and fair picture of the person. Once the dust settles and the blood is cleaned from the floor, it would be reasonable to expect Judge Gorsuch to join the Supreme Court.

From the duck blind, the transom, the fly-tying bench, or the streamside, it can’t hurt to have an avid outdoorsman put on the ultimate black robe.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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