Gorsuch has busy first day at Supreme Court

And then there were nine.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments with a full court for the first time in over a year Monday as Justice Neil Gorsuch officially took his seat on the bench.

Gorsuch, who was confirmed earlier this month after President Trump nominated him to the court, entered the courtroom grinning as he stepped up to his chair — the last on the far right, next to President Obama appointee Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Chief Justice John Roberts welcomed Gorsuch and wished him a “long and happy career in our common calling.”

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Gorsuch, sworn in last week in two separate ceremonies, thanked Roberts and his new colleagues for their warm welcome. 

The former 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge replaces Elena Kagan as the court's most junior justice and will reportedly take over her duties on the cafeteria committee, which he will keep until the next justice is confirmed.

At an event in Colorado last summer, Kagan explained that the newest member is last to speak during the justices' private court conferences and has to take notes and answer the door throughout the proceeding, The Washington Post reported.

Though the high court is a place where seniority rules, Gorsuch was far from shy on his first day.

He wasted little time before jumping in with questions in the first case Monday, which centered on a technical question over which court has jurisdiction to hear appeals of discrimination claims filed by federal employees.

The justices were being asked if a federal district court has jurisdiction to review cases that involve both alleged violations of federal anti-discrimination laws and challenges to adverse employment actions or if those appeals must be heard by a federal circuit court.   

Gorsuch focused his first line of questioning on the wording of the statute, asking the employee’s attorney, Christopher Landau, several questions about where in the law it says district courts have jurisdiction to hear civil service claims.

“Wouldn't it be a lot easier if we just followed the plain text of the statute?” asked Gorsuch, who has been described by supporters and opponents as a “textualist” who believes courts should carefully follow the wordings of the laws under review. “What am I missing?”

He then apologized to the lawyes and his fellow justices for taking up so much time, a theme he’d return to repeatedly.  

When he wasn’t asking questions, Gorsuch sat straight up with a grin on his face, appearing as exuberant as a young child on their first day of school.

His new colleagues also seemed to be in jovial spirits.

In the first case, Justice Samuel Alito cracked a joke about how complex the laws are, eliciting a roar of laughter from the crowded courtroom.

“The one thing about this case that seems perfectly clear to me is that nobody who is not a lawyer, and no ordinary lawyer could read these statutes and figure out what they are supposed to do,” he said.

Gorsuch appeared chummy with Sotomayor throughout the day's arguments, sharing a laugh at the start and end of the first case.

In the second case, which centered on whether someone intervening in a lawsuit must have standing, the two exchanged several glances and grins.

Gorsuch, however, was quiet for the first half of arguments in that case, while Neal Katyal argued on behalf of the petitioner. The former acting solicitor general under Obama testified on behalf of Gorsuch during his confirmation hearings last month. Gorsuch did not recuse himself from the case but chose not to ask Katyal any questions.

Gorsuch, however, did ask a hypothetical question to Shay Dvoretsky, the attorney for the party wishing to intervene in the case over the regulatory taking of land.

If a federal prisoner sued the Bureau of Prisons for not providing meals that are consistent with his religious beliefs and 80 other prisons joined him, Gorsuch asked, would the other prisoners have to show standing in order to get their own meals?

Dvoretzky said it depends on what relief the original plaintiff was seeking.

“If he is seeking a declaratory judgment or an injunction invalidating the prison's entire meal program, then I think they can join,” he said.

“If he is seeking an injunction saying, he, individually, is entitled to a particular type of food and they would like that judgment to extend to them, they need at that point standing, because they're asking the defendant to do something different, not only to provide him with particular food, but also to provide it to them, whereas otherwise the defendant would not be free to do that.”

Dvorestzky argued that his client, Laroe Estates, was intervening in the case to maximize the relief of the property owner, with whom it had contracted to buy the land.  

In the third case of the day, which the court heard arguments for in the afternoon after an hour break, the justices weighed the rules for the timely filing of individual claims from class members who opt out of a securities class action lawsuit. 

Gorsuch fills a slot on the court that had been vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016.

Republicans refused to hold a hearing or vote on Obama’s nominee for the seat, Merrick Garland.

That strategy paid off when Trump won the White House and Republicans retained their Senate majority.

Democrats tried to block Gorsuch's nomination, but Republicans changed the Senate rules to keep the minority from being able to filibuster Supreme Court nominees.

Gorsuch’s confirmation ensured a tilt to the right for the court that had previously existed with Scalia. Five justices on the court were nominated by Republican presidents, while four were nominated by Democrats.

Gorsuch has reportedly hired four clerks to serve him for the remaining of the October 2016 term and four clerks for the 2017 term. Above the Law reported that all eight have previously clerked for him and four have previously clerked for Supreme Court justices, including Alito, Sotomayor and Scalia.