Trump appointee Gorsuch energetic in
first U.S. high court arguments
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[April 18, 2017]
By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald
Trump's appointee Neil Gorsuch on Monday showed himself to be a frequent
and energetic questioner during U.S. Supreme Court arguments in his
first day hearing cases as a justice, at one point even apologizing for
talking too much.
Gorsuch, whose confirmation to the lifetime job restored the court's
conservative majority, exhibited composure and confidence, sitting on
the far right of the bench in the ornate courtroom, alongside liberal
Justice Sonia Sotomayor. He appeared relaxed, gingerly sipping from a
disposable coffee cup.
The justices, with the exception of the usually silent Clarence Thomas,
are known for their aggressive questioning, and Gorsuch showed no qualms
about jumping right in. Eight times during the course of three one-hour
arguments Gorsuch peppered attorneys with a series of pointed questions.
The court had its full complement of nine justices, five conservatives
and four liberals, for arguments for the first time since Justice
Antonin Scalia's death in February 2016.
Gorsuch formally joined the Supreme Court on April 10 after being
confirmed three days earlier by the Republican-led Senate over broad
The Coloradoan came across as temperamentally different from the
sometimes hard-edged New Yorker Scalia, offering respectful but firm
questioning even when the lawyer facing his queries seemed evasive.
"I'm sorry for interrupting, counselor," Gorsuch told one of the lawyers
in the second case, a property dispute from New York state. "If you
would just answer my question, I would be grateful."
In the first case, an employment dispute, Gorsuch grilled lawyer
Christopher Landau, who represented a man claiming he was discriminated
against by the U.S. Census Bureau, over the fine points of a law
governing civil service employees.
"I'm sorry for taking up so much time, I apologize," Gorsuch said after
his first lengthy exchange, sitting back in his high-backed chair and
'OUR COMMON CALLING'
Chief Justice John Roberts welcomed Gorsuch to the court before oral
arguments began. "Justice Gorsuch, we wish you a long and happy career
in our common calling," Roberts said.
Gorsuch responded by thanking his new colleagues for their "warm
Gorsuch asked a string of questions about complicated federal law. As he
indicated during his Senate confirmation hearing last month, his line of
inquiry focused on the text of a statute, an approach also embraced by
Scalia and other conservative jurists.
[to top of second column]
U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch testifies during the
third day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on
Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. on March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan
"Wouldn't it be a lot easier if we followed the plain text of the
statute? What am I missing?" Gorsuch asked government lawyer Brian
Fletcher in the employment case.
When Fletcher responded that he could give reasons for his
interpretation, Gorsuch appeared unsatisfied. "Not reasons. Where in
the language?" he asked, referring to the statute.
The second case involved whether a developer can intervene in a
lawsuit brought by a property owner against the town of Chester, New
York over its refusal to give him permission to build on his land.
One of the lawyers in the case, Neal Katyal, was a familiar face to
Gorsuch, having heartily endorsed his nomination, even testifying at
his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. Katyal, who
served as acting solicitor general in Democratic former President
Barack Obama's Justice Department, represented the town.
Gorsuch sparred with a lawyer for a developer hoping to build on the
land but did not directly engage with Katyal.
The third case involved a dispute over whether certain securities
class-action lawsuits can be barred because they were filed too
Gorsuch, who at 49 could remain on the court for decades, served for
a decade on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
before Trump nominated him in January. Trump was able to fill
Scalia's vacancy only because Senate Republicans last year refused
to consider Obama's nominee Merrick Garland.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will
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