Where Does Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Stand on Marijuana?

Yesterday, on Facebook Live, President Trump announced his highly-anticipated pick for the vacant seat on the United States Supreme Court.

Trump tapped Neil Gorsuch, the conservative son of a former official on the Reagan administration. Gorsuch is 49-years-old, making him the youngest SCOTUS appointee in a quarter-century. The Coloradoan currently serves as Judge for the 10th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver, a role he has filled since President George W. Bush selected him for the seat in 2006.

“Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline, and has earned bipartisan support,” President Trump told the gathered crowd.

“Depending on their age, a justice can be active for 50 years. And his or her decisions can last a century or more, and can often be permanent,” added Trump.

Whenever there is an empty seat on the Supreme Court bench, the President of the United States has the distinct privilege of appointing a new Judge; once approved by the Senate, this Supreme Court Justice can fill the position for the rest of their life. The Supreme Court has been operating with an even number of Judges since last February’s passing of fellow conservative-leaning justice Antonin Scalia. This empty seat on the bench has resulted in 4-4 deadlock votes on a number of landmark decisions; Trump’s pick for SCOTUS will have a tremendous amount of influence on polarizing cases including abortion, capital punishment, gun laws, and the relationship between state and federal marijuana mandates.

supreme-courtAs expected, reactions from each side of the aisle were diametrically opposed, as Republicans unilaterally praised the selection and Democrats warned that they’d put up a fight before letting Gorsuch take his seat. If you recall, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland last March, but the Republican-dominated Senate did not proceed with a hearing or vote on Garland’s appointment, something that was unprecedented in the history of the United States. Democratic Senators may take this into account when making their final decision on the Republican-lauded Gorsuch.

“This is the first time in American history that one party has blockaded a nominee for almost a year in order to deliver a seat to a president of their own party. If this tactic is rewarded rather than resisted, it will set a dangerous new precedent in American governance,” explained Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon).

Where does Neil Gorsuch stand on issues related to marijuana?

Gorsuch has never revealed his stance on marijuana, though he has presided over a number of cases that paint a less than clear picture.

The Circuit Court Judge did provide a shred of hope that he may try to at least clear up the confusion and contradictions between state and federal marijuana legislation. In a 2015 tax case where a legally-operated Colorado dispensary was forced to disclose its business operations to the IRS, Gorsuch speculated it could leave the business owners open to prosecution for a federal crime.

More notably, Gorsuch ruled in favor of a police officer who used a taser against an individual suspected of marijuana cultivation in 2013. The fleeing suspect died as a result of his injuries sustained by the taser. This case in particular is causing many to question whether Gorsuch, if approved for the SCOTUS, would protect legal marijuana users from unlawful searches and federal prosecution for crimes that are technically legal in the eyes of their home state. Judge Gorsuch ruled that the officer’s use of the taser was justified and “reasonable.”

An excerpt from Gorsuch’s decision, as reported by Tom Angell:

“[T]he illegal processing and manufacturing of marijuana may not be inherently violent crimes but, outside the medical marijuana context, they were felonies under Colorado law at the time of the incident… And Officer Harris testified, without rebuttal, that he had been trained that people who grow marijuana illegally tend to be armed and ready to use force to protect themselves and their unlawful investments.”

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Gorsuch once cast a shadow of doubt over the federal protections put in place to prevent interference with state marijuana laws, saying, “[I]t’s not clear whether informal agency memoranda guiding the exercise of prosecutorial discretion by field prosecutors may lawfully go quite so far in displacing Congress’s policy directives as these memoranda seek to do. There’s always the possibility, too, that the next…Deputy Attorney General could displace these memoranda at anytime…”

The confirmation hearings for Judge Gorsuch should be fascinating, as all of the hearings for Trump’s appointees have been so far. We should gain better insight into Gorsuch’s decision making process and position on key issues, including marijuana reform.

Cover Image Courtesy of NBC

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