Tuesday, May 15, 2018

(Part 2) The Gorsuch Factor in Coming Supreme Decisions

Neil Gorsuch took his seat on the Supreme Court in April 2017. For the next several weeks, till the end of the Court's term in late June of that year, Gorsuch made his mark. It was quick and pronounced.

Gorsuch with Scalia
Gorsuch had a track record from his years as a federal appellate judge on the 10th Circuit. That was also pronounced. Whether one has a favorable or unfavorable view of that track record, what simply cannot be denied--despite his Senate supporters best efforts--is that Gorsuch's record was a staunchly politically conservative one.
(See the previous post and the earlier ones cited therein: The Gorsuch Factor in Coming Supreme Decisions.)

Gorsuch established the very same sort of record as soon as he joined the Supreme Court last spring. Let's recall his votes and opinions from his several weeks on the Court at the end of last year's term. Again, whether one views his record favorably or not, its politically conservative character is clear--indeed, strident.

Death Penalty
In McGehee v. Hutchinson, Gorsuch cast his first public vote. He broke the Supreme Court's 4-4 tie to allow Arkansas to proceed with several executions that the state was rushing to complete, because its supply of lethal drugs was expiring.

Campaign Finance
In Republican Party of Louisiana v. FEC, the Court's majority summarily upheld--in a four word entry--a provision of the federal campaign finance law that prohibits unregulated contributions to political parties. Gorsuch, together with Justice Thomas, noted his disagreement with the majority and voted to take the case for a full appeal.

Employee Grievance
In Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board, a 7-2 majority of the Court ruled that a worker could seek full judicial review of his discrimination claim, even though it was part of a civil service complaint. Gorsuch, joined by Thomas, dissented to require courts to affirm administrative rulings against workers, unless those rulings are utterly irrational.

Trump's Travel Ban
In Trump v. Int'l Refugee Asst Project, a  6-3 majority of the Court continued the injunction against much of the travel ban, but allowed the ban against persons "lack[ing] any bona fide relationship" to the United States." Gorsuch joined Thomas's dissenting opinion, arguing that even persons with "a close familial relationship" with an American could be banned by Trump.

Gay Rights
In Pavan v. Smith, on the basis of Obergefell v. Hodges--which recognized same-sex couples' right to marry--a 6-3 majority summarily invalidated Arkansas's refusal to include the name of  a same-sex spouse on the birth certificate of the biological mother's child. Gorsuch, joined by Thomas and Alito, dissented, arguing that "nothing in Obergefell" prevents a state from limiting birth certificates to biological parents.

Gun Rights
In Peruta v. California, the Court declined to review a  California law which generally prohibits concealed guns in public places. Gorsuch joined Thomas's dissent complaining that the majority's decision not to take the case "reflects a distressing trend: the treatment of the Second Amendment as a disfavored right." They also insisted that "the Framers made a clear choice [about] the right to bear arms for self-defense. I do not think we should stand by idly while a State denies its citizens that right."

Just consider the politically conservative position in these cases. Not the judicially restrained or strict constructionist or policy neutral positions. But the most likely position that would be taken by politically conservative politicians and ideologues.

Those are the positions taken by Justice Gorsuch. And those are the positions he consistently took as an appellate judge as well as during his first several weeks on the Court last year.

With that unmistakable track record, Justice Gorsuch would need to undergo a radical transformation not to have the same, stridently politically conservative record in the significant cases the Court will soon decide as it ends its term.