Gorsuch Full of Questions in First U.S. Supreme Court Argument

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Justice Neil Gorsuch didn’t wait long to start making his presence felt at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hearing arguments in his first case Monday — a procedural dispute involving the rights of federal employees who lose their jobs — Gorsuch waited only 10 minutes before unleashing a barrage of questions and suggesting both sides in the case were misreading a key federal law.

“Where in the statute is that provided?” he asked Chris Landau, a lawyer representing dismissed Census Bureau worker Anthony Perry, in his first question.

By the end of the hour, Gorsuch was as active a questioner as any of his colleagues — and prompted one of them to suggest he was proposing revolutionary changes, albeit in an obscure area of federal law.

The dispute is one of three cases Gorsuch is hearing in his first day on the high court bench, a week after he was sworn in. It centers on an area of law so technical and complicated that Justice Sonia Sotomayor joked that she hoped she wouldn’t have to write the court’s opinion.

Gorsuch, however, was enthusiastic as he questioned Landau, who is seeking to have Perry’s entire suit go forward in a federal district court, rather than have part of the case first go to a federal appeals court. When Landau said he wasn’t asking the court to “break any new ground,” Gorsuch pushed back.

“No, just to continue to make it up,” Gorsuch said.

Prior Decisions

Gorsuch’s questions suggested he disagreed with previous Supreme Court decisions that had let federal district courts consider lawsuits that claim violations of federal discrimination laws as well as civil service laws.

His questions drew pushback from Justice Elena Kagan, who said that position would mark a “revolution,” though in a technical area of law.

The session began with Chief Justice John Roberts welcoming Gorsuch. “We wish you a long and happy career in our common calling,” Roberts said.

Gorsuch thanked his new colleagues for the “very warm welcome” he said he had received.

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