Neil Gorsuch, a federal appeals judge in Denver whom President Donald Trump nominated to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by Judge Antonin Scalia, has a history of siding with police officers in cases that weighed the powers granted to them.
During his time as a judge for the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Gorsuch granted police officers more power to conduct searches during routine traffic stops, citing violence against police officers.
“The Fourth Amendment is not a game of blind man’s bluff,” Gorsuch wrote in a 2011 response to an argument that officers cannot take objects from a suspect’s pockets without concrete reasonable suspicion. “It doesn’t require an officer to risk his safety or the safety of those nearby while he fishes around in a suspect’s pockets until he can correctly guess the identity and risks association with an unknown object.”
Gorsuch’s record on the issue is mixed, however. Last year, he argued that officers violated the Fourth Amendment by entering a home that had multiple visible “No Trespassing” signs out front.
In 2013, Gorsuch upheld a U.S. District Court decision that dismissed a lawsuit filed by the parents of a 22-year-old who died after being hit in the head with a Taser shot by a Lafayette, Colorado, police officer. Gorsuch maintained that police officers have “qualified immunity,” which prevents government officials from facing civil liability for damages.
“We sympathize with the Wilsons over their terrible loss,” he wrote in his decision. “But the Supreme Court has directed the lower federal courts to apply qualified immunity broadly to protect ... all officers except ‘the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’”
In 2014, Gorsuch issued a joint ruling that Utah school resource Officer Tina Maria Albrand did not use excessive force or violate the constitutional rights of a 9-year-old boy when she pushed his arm into a twist lock before handcuffing him. The child, who had stolen an iPad, was sitting quietly when Albrand arrived at the scene. She said she tried to talk to the child, who didn’t respond, before trying to help him stand. When he began twisting and grabbed her arm, Albrand claimed, she was afraid the 67-pound child was reaching for her firearm.
The ruling said that while it was unfortunate a police officer needed to use such force, “the disrespectful, obdurate, and combative behavior of that nine-year-old child” was equally troublesome.
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