Well, the new kid is in the classroom, and he’s spouting off like he knows a thing or two. And now it’s becoming clear that Neil Gorsuch, the new U.S. Supreme Court judge, is punching way above his weight class.
After Republicans nuked the Supreme Court filibuster and Gorsuch’s confirmation was ramrodded through the U.S. Senate, Justice Gorsuch took the bench and immediately displayed his lack of understanding that comes from complicated legal cases. NPR reported on the new kid’s first day.
While discussing a case deciding which courts should hear discrimination claims made by federal government employees, Gorsuch asked, “Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we just follow the text of the statute?”
But what Gorsuch couldn’t wrap his mind around was that because that specific case is examining conflicting statutes, the justices must discuss which statutes offered language that was most appropriate. Justice Alito became frustrated with trying to explain to Gorsuch how this was not as simple as it seemed.
“This is unbelievably complicated,” Alito told Gorsuch. “The one thing about this case that seems perfectly clear to me is that nobody who’s not a lawyer — and no ordinary lawyer — could read these statutes and figure out what they are supposed to do.”
The court later had a laugh at Gorsuch’s expense after his questions suggested he disagreed with previous Supreme Court decisions.
Gorsuch’s arrival highlighted a day that otherwise was full of cases so technical that Justice Sonia Sotomayor joked she hoped she wouldn’t have to write the opinion in one of them. That was the first case, a procedural dispute involving the rights of federal employees who lose their jobs.
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.
Gorsuch’s eager questions drew some toungue-in-cheek pushback from Justice Elena Kagan.
“This would be kind of a revolution — I mean, to the extent you can have a revolution in this kind of case,” she said, drawing laughter.
During confirmation hearings, Democrats argued against confirming Gorsuch based on his lacking judicial experience. It looks like their concerns were valid as Gorsuch is demonstrating a lack of awareness about how a judge should endeavor to interpret multiple and conflicting statutes at once.