In first year, Gorsuch is reliable conservative vote

FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2017, file photo Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch speaks at the Federalist Society's 2017 National Lawyers Convention in Washington. Gorsuch has been almost exactly what conservatives hoped for and liberals dreaded when he joined the Supreme Court in April. He has consistently, even aggressively, lined up with the court’s most conservative justices. He has even split with Chief Justice John Roberts, viewed by some as insufficiently conservative because of his two opinions upholding the Obama health care law. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)
Associated Press file/2017
In his first year on the bench, Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch has written three opinions, two separate opinions in which he agreed with the majority’s result, and several dissents.

WASHINGTON — Neil Gorsuch, who became the Supreme Court’s newest member a year ago this Tuesday, has heard more than 60 cases on issues including gerrymandering, fees paid to unions, and the privacy of certain cellphone records.

So far, President Trump’s pick for the high court, its 113th justice, has been what Republicans believed and hoped he would be — a reliably conservative vote.

So far, he has written three opinions, two separate opinions in which he agreed with the majority’s result, and several dissents.


Court observers say Gorsuch’s style of writing as a justice is designed to attract attention and reach an audience beyond law professors and experts.

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Earlier this year he began a dissent by citing English writer G.K. Chesterton. He started an opinion involving water rights with a humorous quote attributed to actor Will Rogers, who is said to have called the Rio Grande ‘‘the only river I saw that needed irrigation.’’

In some cases, Gorsuch has been criticized for seemingly talking down to readers or to his colleagues on the opposite side of an issue, but he has also won praise for being clear and engaging.

Opinion writing isn’t new for Gorsuch, who spent a decade as a federal appeals court judge before joining the Supreme Court. Now, however, it comes with higher stakes and a broader audience.

Analysts caution against reading too much into Gorsuch’s first Supreme Court writings. ‘‘One year is not that much of a sample size on a justice,’’ said Dan Epps, who co-hosts the First Mondays podcast about the court.


Gorsuch has been the target of criticism from the left over the past year, perhaps in part because of the political atmosphere in which he was confirmed.

After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016, Senate Republicans refused to hold a hearing on President Obama’s choice to replace the conservative jurist and left Scalia’s seat open for more than a year until voters chose a new president.

Some critics have noted that Gorsuch’s few public appearances since becoming a justice have included speaking at events linked to people who helped him get his new job. His decision to speak at an event at Trump’s Washington hotel in September drew particular ire.

While liberals had hoped that Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, would fill Scalia’s seat, Gorsuch’s selection preserved the court’s conservative bent. Since joining the court, Gorsuch has joined Justice Clarence Thomas as one of conservatives’ favorite justices, fully agreeing with Thomas in 14 of the 17 cases in which the court has not been unanimous, according to statistics compiled in part by the website Scotusblog.

That’s in comparison to just eight of those cases where Gorsuch has fully agreed with more moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy.


Scalia was an aggressive questioner during arguments. Gorsuch is less dominant.

So far this term he has asked an average of 16 questions per argument, the third-highest average among the nine justices, according to Scotusblog. He’s rarely been the first justice with a question. And during arguments in February in a high-profile labor union case in which he holds the decisive vote, he said nothing.

Gorsuch has some special roles as the court’s newest member. Those include taking notes and speaking last at the justices’ private conferences as well as opening the door when anyone knocks.

Gorsuch gave up ready access to skiing, a favorite activity, when he left his home in Colorado for the nation’s capital. His outdoor activities these days include taking regular, early morning bike rides, he has said, and he has been spotted leaving the court on two wheels.