The Leadville Connection: Justice Neil Gorsuch.
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
All eyes will be on Washington, DC today as Judge Neil Gorsuch is sworn into the Supreme Court of the United States. And wouldn’t you know it, the highest city in the land has a connection to the highest court in the land!
That’s what makes Leadville so special and unique. Its history (which is being celebrated during the month of April) is so rich and far-reaching, that it doesn’t take much digging to find a link to present-day events. So upon hearing U.S. Senator Cory Gardner’s congratulatory remarks after the Justice’s confirmation last Friday, referring to Gorsuch as a fourth-generation Coloradoan, the hunt for the Leadville connection was on!
Of course, if the name Gorsuch rings a bell for anyone around these parts, it’s generally associated with Gorsuch Ltd, the high-end apparel shop which was founded in Gunnison, but better known in Vail. And while those Gorsuchs also have a Lake County connection – one which provided part of the criteria for accomplished skier David Gorsuch to be inducted into the Leadville/Lake County Sports Hall of Fame, a great story you can read HERE – that’s not this Gorsuch. That notable athlete is actually a distant cousin to the new Supreme Court Justice.
The Leadville connection, in fact, has a more direct lineage. And of course, it has to do with mining! Meet Justice Gorsuch’s grandfather: John Elliott Gorsuch, a branch further up the family tree and often times, found further up the mountain.
He was born in Denver in 1899, his parents having moved west from Ohio. He grew up in the Hilltop neighborhood, much like his grandson did. Eventually, John Gorsuch and Fred Kirgis opened the doors of the law firm of Gorsuch & Kirgis which dissolved in 2005.
John Gorsuch quickly gained a reputation for being a keen labor arbitrator, a skill in high demand in a post World War II economy wrought with challenging labor relations. His work on settling disputes that arose during collective bargaining agreements between companies and unions was in high demand which eventually led his path to Lake County and the world renown Climax Mine, located 15 miles north of Leadville.
At this point in history, the transition from underground mining to open-pit operations created a shift in jobs and the labor market that required a talented negotiator to keep the delicate balance between maintaining an active workforce in a rural community and generating profits, all while the country struggled to climb out of The Great Depression.
In an article entitle “Six of the Greatest: John Gorsuch,” which was published in The Colorado Lawyer by Ben S. Aisenberg, an associate at the Gorsuch & Kirgis law firm, and protégé of the esteemed attorney, he reflects on some of the stories told by the senior partner over the years.
“John was equally active in creating diversity of experience for the young associate lawyers and new partners the firm started to hire in 1945. John’s extensive engagement as a principal arbitrator for Climax Molybdenum required him to travel frequently over Loveland Pass (not through the Eisenhower Tunnel, which had not yet been constructed). It was his custom to invite a new associate to attend a hearing with him. During the winter months, these trips were more hazardous, especially when traveling through areas where avalanches were common. Such excursions were special not only for the scenery, but also for the discussions and the prayers of both John and the associate.”
And while any daily, high-pass commuter can relate to the white-knuckled morning drive that can still be waiting atop Fremont Pass, perhaps it’s John Gorsuch’s attribute to relate to the “everyday man,” that citizens most hope will run strong in Justice Neil Gorsuch’s blood when he raises his right hand to take the oath in Washington today.
But for those living in Leadville Today, Gorsuch’s appointment brings a renewed sense of civic pride that a man being named to the highest court in the land, has a connection to the highest city in land: Leadville, Colorado.
Congratulations, Justice Neil Gorsuch from your friends up the mountain, In The ‘Ville. Do your Grandpa proud!
Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, a digital media company that publishes two news sites: Leadville Today and Saguache Today. She may be reached at email@example.com.