Gorsuch Comes Out Guns Blazing In His First Cases; Here Are Some Highlights

Newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch heard his first three cases on the bench this week and quickly made his presence known.

Gorsuch’s questioning. The new justice took to his first day quickly and was an active questioner.

Technical cases. The cases were considered incredibly technical, with Obama appointee Justice Sonia Sotomayor joking that she hoped she wouldn’t have to write the opinion for one of them.

The first case, which is the one Sotomayor referenced, was a “a procedural dispute involving the rights of federal employees who lose their jobs,” Bloomberg reported.

Gorsuch, however, was enthusiastic as he questioned Chris Landau, the lawyer representing the dismissed Census Bureau worker. Landau asked the court to let the man’s entire suit go forward in a federal district court, rather than waiting for part of the case to be addressed first by a federal appeals court. When Landau said he wasn’t asking the court to “break any new ground,” Gorsuch gave a pointed response.

“No, just to continue to make it up,” Gorsuch said.

A “revolution.” Justice Elena Kagan, another Obama appointee, pushed back against Gorsuch, who quickly took previous SCOTUS rulings to task.

Gorsuch’s questions suggested he disagreed with previous Supreme Court decisions that had let federal district courts consider lawsuits that claim violations of federal discrimination laws as well as civil service laws.

“This would be kind of a revolution — I mean, to the extent you can have a revolution in this kind of case,” Kagan said, which resulted in laughter from those assembled.

Cases two and three. One case involved Neal Katyal, an appellate lawyer who introduced Gorsuch during his confirmation hearing, which had some legal ethics experts wondering if Gorsuch would recuse himself from the case.

Instead, Gorsuch refrained from questioning Katyal during that case.

Bloomberg reported:

That case centered on the constitutional requirements when someone wants to intervene in a lawsuit.

The third case will affect the deadlines for some investor fraud suits. California Public Employees’ Retirement System argues the deadline for its suit against Lehman Brothers underwriters should be extended because a similar class-action suit had been filed against the same defendants.

Gorsuch directed all of his questions to the Calpers lawyer, Tom Goldstein. The justice said the “plain language” of the key statute favored the underwriters, suggesting he would vote to bar the Calpers lawsuit.

What this means. It’s too early to tell what kind of a justice Gorsuch will be, though it’s clear that he jumped right in feet first, and if his first day is any indication of the future, he intends to be a keen questioner on the bench.

Whether or not he will end up going the way of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat he now occupies, or perhaps Chief Justice John Roberts (or somewhere in between), remains to be seen.