Justice Gorsuch marks his first full week on the high court
One watcher reacted: "Vintage Scalia"
While President Donald Trump tweeted about his first hundred days in office Friday morning, it’s worth taking a glance at Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first full week at the Supreme Court.
Trump’s Friday morning tweet referred to his first 100 days. He noted he had accomplished a lot, “including S.C.” he wrote, referring to the Gorsuch nomination.
On Monday, Gorsuch appeared from behind the flowing red curtain for his debut, wearing his black robe and pausing for a moment to gaze out into the audience and take it all in. Then, after about 13 minutes, he launched into arguments, asking his first question. And then a second. And a follow-up.
“I’m sorry for taking up so much time, I apologize” he said at one point as his colleagues looked on.
Gorsuch was politely grilling the lawyer about the text of the statute at hand. His questioning style couldn’t be more different than Justice Antonin Scalia, but in some ways his questions channeled the man he has replaced.
“Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we just followed the plain text of the statute? What am I missing?” the 49-year-old justice asked.
After arguments, one veteran Supreme Court lawyer and observer shook his head and smiled about the line of questioning.
“Vintage Scalia,” he said.
The day was far from over, however. On Monday night, the court issued an order in a death penalty case out of Arkansas and declined to lift a stay of execution that had been entered by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The order came at 12:44 a.m. ET.
By Wednesday, the most junior justice was hearing perhaps the biggest case of the term, dealing with religious liberty.
His questions indicated that he might side with the church in the case. “Well, discrimination on the basis of status of religion, there’s no line-drawing problem there. We know that’s happened in this case, right?” he said.
Thursday was another late night, as the high court grappled with more applications from eight death row inmates in Arkansas challenging a plan to execute them before the state’s lethal injection drug supply expires.
In his first major vote, Gorsuch sided with the conservatives and cleared the way for the execution of Ledell Lee. The four liberal justices noted they would have voted to grant the application for a stay of the execution. The vote was 5 to 4.
“Arkansas set out to execute eight people over the course of 11 days. Why these eight? Why now?,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in an impassioned dissent. “The apparent reason has nothing to do with the heinousness of their crimes,” he said.
“Apparently the reason the State decided to proceed with these eight executions is that the ‘use by’ date of the state’s execution drug is about to expire. In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random,” he said.
Lee, convicted of the 1995 murder of Debra Reese, was administered the drugs Friday at 12:44 a.m. ET, and pronounced dead at 12:56 a.m. ET.
Gorsuch will gather today with his colleagues for his first Friday closed-door conference to discuss whether to take up major issues having to do with gay marriage, the Second Amendment, search warrants, cell phone data and voting rights.
The court might also tackle how to handle any cases it already heard that resulted in even-split votes of 4 to 4 after Scalia’s death and before Gorsuch’s arrival.