A Republic, If You Can Keep It

About the Book

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Justice Neil Gorsuch reflects on his journey to the Supreme Court, the role of the judge under our Constitution, and the vital responsibility of each American to keep our republic strong.
As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention, he was reportedly asked what kind of government the founders would propose. He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” In this book, Justice Neil Gorsuch shares personal reflections, speeches, and essays that focus on the remarkable gift the framers left us in the Constitution.
Justice Gorsuch draws on his thirty-year career as a lawyer, teacher, judge, and justice to explore essential aspects our Constitution, its separation of powers, and the liberties it is designed to protect. He discusses the role of the judge in our constitutional order, and why he believes that originalism and textualism are the surest guides to interpreting our nation’s founding documents and protecting our freedoms. He explains, too, the importance of affordable access to the courts in realizing the promise of equal justice under law—while highlighting some of the challenges we face on this front today.
Along the way, Justice Gorsuch reveals some of the events that have shaped his life and outlook, from his upbringing in Colorado to his Supreme Court confirmation process. And he emphasizes the pivotal roles of civic education, civil discourse, and mutual respect in maintaining a healthy republic.
A Republic, If You Can Keep It offers compelling insights into Justice Gorsuch’s faith in America and its founding documents, his thoughts on our Constitution’s design and the judge’s place within it, and his beliefs about the responsibility each of us shares to sustain our distinctive republic of, by, and for “We the People.”
Read more

Listen to a sample from A Republic, If You Can Keep It

Praise for A Republic, If You Can Keep It

“Every American should read this book—especially those who think they disagree with Justice Gorsuch. . . . Whether readers end up agreeing or disagreeing with Justice Gorsuch’s ideas, our republic will be richer for readers having considered them.”—U.S. Circuit Judge Amul Thapar 

“Justice Gorsuch has written a temperate book, with civility shown to all. Such fairness, though, does not reduce the fervor with which he urges that we keep this country a republic.”National Review
“Serves as an introduction to the man and his philosophy while reminding the reader of the need to understand and participate in the nation’s civic affairs.”Washington Examiner

“This book and Justice Gorsuch’s distinguished judicial career confirm the reputation I heard so long ago—he is a legal superstar. The stories in his book, including a delightful one about an airplane ride sitting next to a young girl who was frightened of the turbulence and just needed a friend, also confirm my early impression of his kindness.”Legal Communication & Rhetoric

A Republic, If You Can Keep It is a powerful legacy for the next generation of Americans. Justice Gorsuch reminds us of the necessity for judges to do the right thing even when unpopular, to dispense justice dispassionately, to promote consistency in the law, and to be content serving in anonymity.”—Alberto Gonzales, former United States Attorney General
“Justice Neil Gorsuch’s Western spirit—friendly, forthright, optimistic, and deeply egalitarian—shines through in A Republic, If You Can Keep It. Addressing urgent problems of law, ethics, and government, he is practical rather than abstract, humane rather than technical, and incorrigibly good humored.”—Christopher DeMuth, Distinguished Fellow, Hudson Institute
A Republic, If You Can Keep It is a delightful primer on civics as well as the reflections of a deeply thoughtful judge.”—Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University
“A glimpse of the character and career of a Justice who will profoundly influence American law for decades to come. And there’s plenty in these essays for interested readers of all stripes, whether conservative, libertarian, moderate, or liberal.”—Eugene Volokh, Gary T. Schwartz Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law
“In A Republic, If You Can Keep It, Justice Gorsuch speaks to where we have been as a country and where we are going. It should be required reading for anyone interested in our Constitution and our Republic in the twenty-first century.”—Tim Meyer, professor and director, International Legal Studies Program, Vanderbilt University Law School

“In this powerful book, Justice Neil Gorsuch explains why he has chosen to make the connection between civic knowledge, civil dialogue, and self-government the focus of his public activities. A Republic, If You Can Keep It is an invaluable case for the importance of civics and civility that will inform constitutional debates among Americans of all perspectives.”—Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center
Read more

A Republic, If You Can Keep It


“A Republic, If You Can Keep It”

When you start a new job, your friends and family inevitably ask, “Is it what you expected?” The answer to that question is usually a mix of yes and no. It certainly has been for me.

The “no” part is pretty obvious. After all, no one can really expect or prepare for the job of Supreme Court justice. To serve the American people on our highest court is a humbling responsibility. In our history, only 114 men and women have done so.

The “yes” part may be a little less obvious. But in many ways the people and place are happily familiar. A surprising number of the Court’s employees still remember me from my days as a law clerk years ago—and all have gone out of their way to offer me a warm welcome. It is an honor to work with such dedicated public servants.

As it happens, too, three of the justices who served on the Court back then were still serving when I returned. Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom I clerked, is rightly regarded in our profession as a model of civility and judicial temperament. It was a special joy to be able to work by his side again—and apparently the first time a law clerk and his former boss had the chance. When I was serving as Justice White’s law clerk, he retired and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to serve as his successor. I remember the day my old boss passed along to his new colleague his law clerk manual, just in case she’d find it helpful in setting up her office. Shortly after my confirmation, Justice Ginsburg returned that same document to me, along with many helpful updates she had added over the years. That was quite a moment for me. I also have a distinct memory from my time as a law clerk of watching Justice Clarence Thomas walk from his chambers to the Justices’ Conference Room to discuss cases. He was lugging a rolling book cart filled with briefs and binders and papers, his booming laugh filling the hallways. Fast-forward and, on one of my first days as a justice, I’m walking to the Conference Room to discuss cases, and what do I see? Justice Thomas, with his book cart filled with briefs and binders and papers, and his same booming laugh.

More than all that, though, my new day job is a little like the one I shared for many years with wonderful colleagues on the court of appeals. Now, as then, the days are filled with reading briefs, listening to the arguments of lawyers, studying the law in solitude, and engaging with colleagues and law clerks. Each court, too, bears rites and rituals that serve to remind us of the seriousness of our common enterprise and the humanity of each person in it. When we conferred on cases at the Tenth Circuit, inevitably someone would volunteer to bring coffee, mugs would be passed around, and before getting down to the business of discussing cases we’d begin by asking after one another’s families. When a new member joined the court, we convened in a retreat to welcome the new judge, answer questions, express our support, and reflect on our aspirations as colleagues. Every other year, we gathered in conferences with the lawyers who regularly appeared before us to discuss the state of the circuit, along the way coming to appreciate one another more fully not just as professionals but as persons.

At the Supreme Court, the rituals are different but the point is the same. We eat lunch together regularly and share experiences and laughs along the way (Justice Stephen Breyer seems to possess an endless reservoir of knock-knock jokes). We flip burgers together at the Court’s annual picnic and celebrate birthdays and the holidays with song (always enthusiastically if not always melodically). We welcome employees’ children in our chambers for trick-or-treating as they parade costumed around the building. Every justice at some point in the year sits down for lunch with the law clerks of every other justice. And whenever we gather for work, no matter how stressful the moment, each justice shakes the hand of every other justice. That practice dates back to the late nineteenth century and may seem a small gesture, but those thirty-six handshakes can break the ice and lead to kind words or a personal story. More recently, Justice William Rehnquist introduced an end-of-term party in which our law clerks put on a skit whose primary purpose seems to be to rib each of the justices good-naturedly. When he wrote to Chief Justice Warren Burger proposing the idea, Justice Rehnquist reportedly quipped, “I should think we could have a very enjoyable evening out of it”—and we do. At the gathering, there’s also a contest where the law clerks try their hand at trivia questions about the Court, its cases, and its history. In front of all the Court’s employees, the Chief Justice grills the clerks with questions like “What phrase is inscribed on the back of the Supreme Court Building?” (“Justice the Guardian of Liberty”) and “Where and when did the first meeting of the Supreme Court take place?” (The Royal Exchange in New York City in February 1790). Simple traditions like these help renew our mutual respect and affection even, and especially, when we are unable to agree on the work at hand. They help ensure, too, that as a Court we never lose sight of our shared history.

My worry is that in our country today we sometimes overlook the importance of these kinds of bonds and traditions, and of the appreciation for civility and civics they instill. The problem can be summed up in a few numbers. According to polling by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 60 percent of U.S. citizens would flunk the U.S. citizenship test. In fact, it seems only one state—Vermont—has a majority of people who could pass it (and even then, only with a D). A quarter of Americans don’t know that freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment. And, yes, it seems about 10 percent believe Judith Sheindlin serves on the Supreme Court. You may know her better as Judge Judy. Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters of Americans believe the country is suffering from a crisis in civility. A quarter have reported enduring cyberbullying or incivility online. About the same percentage have transferred children to different schools because of incivility. At the same time, other people are actually calling for an end to civility. They say that civility is a coward’s virtue and that more anger is needed—that the stakes are too high and the ends justify the means.

But a government of and by the people rests on the belief that the people should and can govern themselves—and do so in peace, with mutual respect. For all that to work, the people must have some idea how their own government operates—its essential structure and promises, what it was intended to do and prohibited from doing. We must, as well, be able to talk to one another respectfully; debate and compromise; and strive to live together tolerantly. As Lincoln put it in far more trying times, “[W]e must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” History teaches what happens when societies fail to pass on civic understandings and come to disdain civility: Civilization crumbles. Europe in the twentieth century had people, too, who, seeking to remake the social order in the vision of their ideology, thought the stakes of the day were too high to tolerate discourse and dissent. They also believed the ends justified the means, and it didn’t end well.

None of this means, of course, that we are destined for the same path. The essential goodness of the American people is a profound reservoir of strength, and this nation has overcome much graver challenges time and again. But we should never ignore the fact that republics have a mixed record in the history books. Our blessings cannot be taken for granted and need constant tending. As Franklin said, we have been given a republic, if we can keep it.

About the Author

Neil Gorsuch
Neil M. Gorsuch is an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. A Colorado native, he served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which is based in Colorado and hears appeals from six western states, before his appointment to the Supreme Court in April 2017. He has also worked as a senior official at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he helped oversee its civil litigating divisions; as a partner at a law firm; as a law professor; and as a law clerk for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. More by Neil Gorsuch
Decorative Carat