Associate Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch talks to Stephen Ochs, a teacher at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda who attended Gorsuch’s investiture ceremony on June 15.
THE COLLECTION OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES Associate Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch talks to Stephen Ochs, a teacher at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda who attended Gorsuch’s investiture ceremony on June 15.
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, a member of the Georgetown Preparatory School class of 1985, invited some teachers and alumni of his alma mater to attend his investiture ceremony on June 15.

Among those who attended was Stephen Ochs, the Lawler Chair of History at the school, who has been teaching there for 41 years. Ochs was the moderator of the student government, which Gorsuch was the president of his senior year, so the two got to know each other well.

Georgetown Prep, located in North Bethesda, was founded in 1789, which was the same year that the Supreme Court was founded. While Gorsuch attended the school, he was a national champion in debate, Ochs said, adding that even in high school, Gorsuch had an ability to break down an argument into pieces and a love for debate and engaging ideas.

But even more than his intellectual feats, what impresses Ochs most about Gorsuch is his character.

“One of the things about Neil is that he has got this razor sharp mind, and yet he has the ability to disagree without being disagreeable,” Ochs said.

The two recently reconnected at a 2015 class reunion that Gorsuch attended, and Ochs said one of the things that struck him most was “how attentive he is with people with whom he is speaking.”

“Washington is a city where people are talking to you, but they are looking for a better deal or a higher status person, and Neil is not like that at all,” Ochs said. “…He has always been a really great debater, he would get into debates with students and teachers…but he had this great ability to really go toe to toe but then not hold grudges, not be somebody who sees you as the enemy. He really has developed over time a wonderful appreciation for other people and other people’s viewpoints even though he has strong viewpoints of his own.”

Gorsuch, a native of Denver, was raised Catholic and in recent years has attended Episcopal churches with his family. He earned a law degree from Harvard and a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University. Gorsuch served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Associate Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. Before being appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, he served for 11 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

At the investiture ceremony, Gorsuch walked into the room and took a seat in the front row, and then everyone stood as President Donald Trump entered the room. The Supreme Court Justices took their seats, and the chair on the far right remained empty. They then invited Gorsuch up to the bench to be sworn in, and Ochs was struck by how Gorsuch said the last line of the oath slowly and deliberately: “so help me God.”

In light of Georgetown Prep’s Jesuit foundation, Ochs thinks Gorsuch has displayed two of the virtues that St. Ignatius particularly stressed: gratitude and generosity.

One example of this Ochs noted was at the reception following the investiture, where Gorsuch had the opportunity to greet his guests. Father William Elliott, a Jesuit priest who retired from teaching Spanish at Georgetown Prep, was also invited to go to the ceremony, and despite his difficulty in getting around, he flew down to attend. Unfortunately, he got lost on his way to the court, and by the time he arrived he had missed the investiture.

When Father Elliott did arrive to the reception, the people at the court got him a chair to sit in, and Ochs observed Gorsuch gradually moving toward the chair, until he reached the priest. When he did, Ochs said, “It was like his heart melted.”

“He was so happy to see him, he crouched down, gave him this big hug, (a) long gentle hug, and said, ‘I am so honored that you came down,’” Ochs said. “It was just so touching.”

Ochs remembers Gorsuch telling Father Elliott that he and the other Jesuit priests at Georgetown Prep, where Gorsuch was a boarding student, “made me what I am” and “had such a profound influence on me.”

When asked why he was excited to see Justice Gorsuch serve on the Supreme Court, Father Elliott said, “He is a very intelligent and fine person, and I think he will be a tremendous asset to the court.”

During Gorsuch’s confirmation process, Ochs would send him notes of encouragement. In one of the notes, he told Gorsuch he thought the hearings were “a special calling for him” and “one of the reasons why he somehow had ended up in this place was to give the American people greater confidence in the Court, the justices and what the justice is supposed to do,” since Gorsuch spent a long time explaining what the role of a judge should be.

“I think Neil is very mission driven. He reviews the law and sees the law as this great protector of our liberties,” said Ochs. “I think he really feels a deep calling to that profession, and I think he feels a deep calling to the bench. I couldn’t be more delighted to have him on the court.”