New Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch took his chair on the high court for the first time Monday and wasted no time making his voice heard.
During his long confirmation process, Gorsuch told the Senate that he would not allow his personal beliefs to persuade his judicial interpretation.
The court first heard a case that presented “a technical but important question about appeals from decisions by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which reviews federal employees’ claims that they were wrongly fired, suspended or demoted.” 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 cannot appeal the allegedly wrongful action, but the employee also alleges that she has been the victim of discrimination – a so-called ‘mixed case.'”
The court must decide if a case over discrimination heads to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit or the federal district court.
Chris Landau tried to convince the court that his client’s case should go to the district court. Gorsuch has his turn after the justices questioned Landau:
Exactly what part, Gorsuch wanted to know, of the federal statute at issue provided for the path that Landau was advocating? Landau started to respond by pointing to a Supreme Court case, but he didn’t get far before Gorsuch interrupted him to focus again on what he described as “the plain language” of the statute.
A few minutes later, Landau sought to reassure the justices that his client was not asking the Supreme Court to “break new ground” with its ruling. But Gorsuch again seemed skeptical, suggesting that what Landau was in fact asking the justices to do was to “just continue to make it up.” Gorsuch seemed to agree with Landau that the result his client is seeking should be in the text of the governing statute – but, Gorsuch cautioned, it isn’t.
Gorsuch also concentrated on the text when he questioned Brian Fletcher, the assistant to the U.S. solicitor general:
But here too he focused on the text, asking Fletcher (somewhat rhetorically) whether it wouldn’t “be a lot easier” if we just followed the plain language of the statute. And when Fletcher started to outline the reasons underlying the government’s position, Gorsuch pressed Fletcher to explain “where” in the statute the government’s proposed rule found support.
Over the weekend, some wondered if Gorsuch would recuse himself from the case of Town of Chester, New York v. Laroe Estates, but not because of the case itself. It’s because of Neal Katyal, former solicitor general under former President Barack Obama, who argued for Chester.
Katyal wrote a New York Times op-ed to explain why the left should support Gorsuch. He also introduced Gorsuch to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The court does not have any “rules on when or if a justice must recuse himself.” Usually, the justice will stand up and leave.
Not Gorsuch. He remained on the bench, but he did not ask Katyal any questions. From The Washington Examiner:
Gorsuch’s silence during Katyal’s arguments is noteworthy, as the newest justice played the role of a happy antagonist throughout the rest of the day’s hearings. Unlike during the Senate hearings on his nomination, Gorsuch was not shy about injecting himself into the various cases and controversies before him.
Katyal, who was arguing at the Supreme Court in Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates involving a zoning dispute, introduced Gorsuch at Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on his high court nomination. Katyal effusively praised Gorsuch last month as a judge who “displayed a resolute commitment to the rule of law and the judiciary’s independence.” On Monday, Gorsuch did not say a word when Katyal came before the Supreme Court.
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