Idaho District Judge Jonathan Brody was hardly surprised to see his childhood pal Neil Gorsuch nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court in January. Despite the years and distance since they both lived in a residential neighborhood of Denver, the two have stayed connected through college, law school and legal careers.
“We weren’t always in the same city or in immediate touch,” said Brody, who serves in Rupert on the 5th District bench, which covers the Magic Valley. “But we’ve remained friends and in touch, although we can go awhile without really talking or anything.”
Brody has served on the state bench since 2009. Married to Robyn Brody, who was elected to the state Supreme Court last fall, he was previously chief deputy prosecutor for Minidoka County and a public defender and prosecutor in Twin Falls County.
Before all that — before Idaho, before law school at the University of Colorado and undergraduate studies at the University of Denver — there was grade school in the east Denver neighborhood of Hilltop and his friendship with Gorsuch. The two lived a few blocks from one another on the same street, and played baseball and soccer together. Gorsuch had a neighborhood paper route. Gorsuch moved to Washington with his family when his mother was named President Ronald Reagan’s EPA head in 1981.
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His friend’s nomination, while an exciting surprise, was hardly unforeseen. Brody was “not shocked.” Gorsuch attended Columbia University for undergrad, followed by Harvard Law School, and then Oxford for his Ph.D. He clerked for a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and two Supreme Court justices before entering private practice. That was followed by a Justice Department appointment and, in 2006, appointment to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
“He has that resume and qualifications that nominees can come from,” Brody said. “He’s just one of those people you figured could be in that pool with some president.”
Brody steered away from discussing Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy (originalist and textualist), or the political fray he entered as President Donald Trump’s nominee. Senate Republicans blocked President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland last year following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Republicans stopped a Democratic attempt to filibuster Gorsuch’s confirmation Thursday. The Senate voted to confirm Gorsuch Friday.
But Brody did say that Gorsuch handled the tough committee hearing process “with some grace and patience, and stood up well in that.”
“He’s always been a hard worker, and driven,” Brody said. “He’s always had a strong sense of justice in things, in a variety of different ways.
“On the more personal level, I think he’s a very good friend. Whoever it is — he can relate with somebody in a rural area fishing, and the president. It’s always sort of been that way.”
His personality, Brody said, comes through in his “very readable and very well-written” court opinions, noted for being accessible to a lay audience.
“It’s hard to describe, but I think his personality is reflected in those opinions,” Brody said. “It’s not just cold, robotic writing.”
Brody, interviewed about Gorsuch for a Feb. 18 Washington Post profile, recounted an incident in which his boyhood friend reacted strongly to a seemingly trivial incident involving a borrowed sleeping bag.
“I don’t remember the exact details of how it got going,” Brody said, “but it was a dispute about these sleeping bags. And something came up and he was very upset about it. He was worried very much that his integrity or honesty would be questioned, and that stuck with me.
“I’m like, I don’t know if I would have had that strong a reaction. So what am I missing? Why does he takes this so seriously?”
In his interview with the Statesman, Brody recalled attending baseball camp with Gorsuch as 12-year-olds. Gorsuch always put in the work to learn the basics of a skill, Brody said.
“They wanted us to learn fundamentals — if you don’t succeed at something, they didn’t want it to be because you didn’t know the fundamentals,” Brody said. “I can’t say he learned that lesson there, but I think he’s always done that a little bit, in whatever endeavor it was.
“He’s always put in that work, starting with the fundamentals. And then proceed.”