US Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch is full of surprises. The conservative jurist proved to be an unlikely ally to his liberal colleagues, siding with them to form a majority more often than any other Republican-nominated judge on the court. And this week, another unexpected aspect of him was revealed.
In a short—but bittersweet and surprisingly deep—response to a law student’s letter, the justice proved his wisdom extends beyond statutory interpretation.
Patrick Sobkowski, who just completed his first year of law school at the University of Dayton and is spending the summer working at a law law firm in Indiana, wrote to the justice for advice several months ago. On July 18, home for summer break, the aspiring lawyer tweeted Gorsuch’s reply to him, which is dated May 21.
On high court stationery direct from the justice’s chambers, Gorsuch succinctly explained the secrets to existential success. “My advice to law students is very simple,” he writes. “Work hard, learn to write and speak effectively, never give up your passions, treasure your family and friendships, find time to do public service, and learn to win—and lose—graciously.”
It’s notable that a man who has risen to the very top of his profession emphasizes the importance of failing successfully and not just winning. But what’s perhaps most impressive is the honesty of the letter. Gorsuch is one of the most powerful jurists in the world, yet despite this glory he warns that disappointment and sorrows cannot be avoided. “More than all that, know you will have many regrets in life—things said or done or things left unsaid or undone,” the justice writes. He concludes by saying, “But the one thing you will never regret is being kind.”
Indeed, Gorsuch showed the power of kindness, and that he follows his own advice, by writing to Sobkowski.
The guidance from Gorsuch is reminiscent of the commencement speech that his boss, chief justice John Roberts, gave graduating high-school students two years ago. “I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted,” Roberts told the private middle school students. “Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”