Published: Thu, April 20, 2017
U.S. | By Monique Johnson

Gorsuch Jumps Right in During Supreme Court Debut


Photo via Wikimedia CommonsNew Justice Neil Gorsuch, slammed as tight-lipped in his Senate confirmation hearing, was far from mum on Day 1 as the 113th member of the U.S. Supreme Court. It's among the first cases Justice Neil Gorsuch will hear since his appointment. (According to attorney blogger Adam Feldman, only Roberts and Kagan talked more.) He also seemed friendly with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who sits directly to his right and with whom he'll be spending lots of time on the bench ― at least until the next vacancy occurs.

"I'm sorry for interrupting, counselor", Gorsuch said.

Gorsuch previously served more than a decade on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, giving him considerable experience with oral arguments, albeit with a lower public profile and on panels that usually consisted of only three judges.

It will be the first time Gorsuch dons a black robe as a justice, and his presence brings the court back to full strength more than a year after the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Displaying a seamless blend of preparation, persistence and humor, Gorsuch immediately cast himself into the center of a highly technical case.

Gorsuch asked a string of questions about complicated federal law. For example, Gorsuch will take over the court's internal Cafeteria Committee, dealing with the vexing questions of food service in the building. In the second case, involving who can intervene in a property rights case, Gorsuch asked no questions of the lawyer on one side, Neal Katyal, who had testified for him at his confirmation hearing. But as expected, he remained on the bench.

Though already a justice, Gorsuch did not participate last week in the court's weekly conference at which the eight not only discuss and vote on previously argued cases but decide which cases to hear in the future. The court said he did not take part in that discussion, preferring to concentrate on the 13 cases to be argued by April 26. SCOTUS Blog explained that the MSPB has claimed that it does not have "the authority to rule on an employee's claim because the employer can not appeal the allegedly wrongful action, but the employee also alleges that she has been the victim of discrimination - a so-called "mixed case'". Missouri's constitution says no state money can ever be spent to aid a church.

Gorsuch's big test this week will come during Wednesday's oral argument in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, a Missouri case that could test the barrier between church and state.

"It was Justice Gorsuch's views on religious liberty that might have been the most persuasive thing to conservative advocates when he was nominated". The case considers whether churches should be allowed to receive money directly from state governments.

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