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Neil Gorsuch: What Happened When I Went From Private Citizen To Public Figure

After years of living happily anonymous as a lawyer and a judge, all of a sudden I found myself recognized nearly everywhere: in the airport, out jogging, even hiking.


In this exclusive excerpt from his new book, “A Republic, If You Can Keep It,” Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch describes going from being anonymous to always being recognized.

My law clerks, especially, were there every step of the way. Law clerks are young men and women who assist a federal judge, usually for just one year after law school before launching their own careers. By the time they leave, they have become part of the family and I am so proud of all they go on to do—working in government and for nonprofits, as parents, and now even as judges.

The hardest part of every year is watching them go. When my former clerks heard I might be nominated, they rallied round immediately. Some quit their jobs or chose to end their maternity leave early; others picked up and moved overnight to Washington just to help out. I couldn’t believe it. Many of these family, friends, and former clerks weren’t “conservative” or “originalists” either; far from it. They just wanted to be there for my family and me.

In the middle of it all, I remember sitting on a flight leaving Colorado for Washington. By then, the confirmation process was in full swing and I was feeling more than a little unmoored. I wound up seated next to a young girl who couldn’t have been more than six or so. She reminded me of my own daughters at that age.

When the plane encountered some turbulence, the girl turned to me and asked if I wouldn’t mind if she held my hand. Later, as the flight smoothed, she asked if I would like to draw with her. We spent the rest of the flight drawing pictures and coloring with her crayons and markers. She had no idea who I was; it was lovely to be anonymous for a moment and to forget about everything else.

Once we got off the plane, her mother, who it turned out had been seated nearby, figured out who I was and not long after that I received a thank-you note from the young lady. It was a drawing of her and me holding hands in front of an airplane.

That experience turned out to be one of countless like it. After years of living happily anonymous as a lawyer and a judge, all of a sudden I found myself recognized nearly everywhere: in the airport, out jogging, even hiking in the Colorado mountains. It was unsettling at first; sometimes it still is.

But with the loss of anonymity I came to learn I had received a gift in return I did not expect. Thousands of people stopped me or wrote to me during the confirmation process to wish me well. Some would come up to me and say: I didn’t vote for the president who nominated you but I’m praying for you and your family. Others would nudge me in line at a coffee shop and tell me a joke to brighten my day.

I got a pile of care packages too. One included a note saying the sender noticed on television that my socks appeared worn out, so she included a bundle of new ones. These encounters reminded me again and again of the goodness that runs deep in our collective heritage and sustains our republic.

Excerpted from “A Republic, If You Can Keep It,” by Neil Gorsuch. Copyright © 2019 by Neil Gorsuch. Excerpted by permission of Crown Forum. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.