As Associate Judge Neil Gorsuch took his seat for the first time on the far right side of the bench, Chief Justice Roberts welcomed him, wishing him “a long and happy career in our common calling.”
Admirers of the deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, who was known for his disdain of legislating from the bench, might have enjoyed what followed.
In oral arguments over which court should hear former fired census taker Anthony W. Perry’s discrimination lawsuit, Gorsuch vigorously engaged opposing lawyers for 10 minutes – citing statute as his guide.
“By what – what authority does a district court ever have the power to hear a civil service claim?”
Gorsuch was so persistent, he even apologized at one point, saying, “Sorry for taking up so much time.”
It was a process-oriented case, full of dry details that new justices are often tasked with writing opinions for.
Wednesday promises a bigger test of Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy.
“Justice Gorsuch won’t have time to settle in quietly because there [are] some hot button cases that are on the court’s doorstep,” Elizabeth Wydra said.
“Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer” is the case of a Missouri church school challenging the state’s denial of a grant to resurface the school playground. Missouri contends its state constitution bars state funds from going to churches.
“We know that Judge Gorsuch has written before on religious liberty issues when this case gets teed up for argument and decisions all eyes will be on Judge Gorsuch because he’s the one who’s going to break the tie,” Tom Dupree said.
As the court’s newest member, Gorsuch will undergo a mild hazing ritual. At the closed door votes where justices decide which cases to hear, Gorsuch will be required to fetch coffee for the others, to answer frequent knocks on the door and to become a member of the court’s cafeteria committee. No small job, given that justices eat together after oral arguments.
Previous member Justice Kagan jokingly complained, “They’ll say, ‘This soup is very salty,’ and I’m like, supposed to go fix it myself?”
Kagan served for six years on that committee, and Justice Breyer served 11 years. Many wonder if Gorsuch’s hazing will be shorter, given speculation about another high court opening sometime soon.