With Gorsuch Sworn In as Supreme Court Justice, a New Conservative Era Begins

At 49, Neil Gorsuch's impact on the Supreme Court could be felt for decades. (Photo: Reuters)

With Gorsuch Sworn In as Supreme Court Justice, a New Conservative Era Begins

Neil Gorsuch could immediately make an impact on cases dealing with religious freedom, gun rights, and immigration

After a bruising Senate confirmation battle, former federal judge Neil Gorsuch was sworn in Monday as the 113th Supreme Court justice, restoring a 5-4 conservative balance to the nation's high court.

Chief Justice John Roberts administered the constitutional oath at 9:00am in a private ceremony; later Monday, Justice Anthony Kennedy--for whom Gorsuch formerly clerked--will ask his new colleague to take a second oath in a public ceremony at the White House.

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Gorsuch "is widely expected to shift the ideological balance of the court to the right," wrote Lydia Wheeler for The Hill, "with his views seen as mostly in line with the man he is replacing: the late Justice Antonin Scalia."

However, she continued, "some court watchers say Gorsuch may be even more conservative than Scalia, his mentor and a fellow adherent to the originalist view of the Constitution."

His impact could be felt immediately, writes David Savage at the Los Angeles Times, noting that Gorsuch joins the court "just in time to cast potentially significant votes in cases that pit religious liberty against gay rights, test limits on funding for church schools, and challenge California's restrictions on carrying a concealed gun in public."

On one "religious freedom" case, which will be heard April 19, NBC Newssays Gorsuch "may have a decisive role to play."

"At stake are laws in well over half the states that prohibit spending tax dollars to support churches," NBC explains. "The states say the restrictions are necessary to keep the government from meddling in religious affairs. But to the challengers, they're nothing more than a form of discrimination."

The outlet continues:

As a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Gorsuch supported a private company and an order of Catholic nuns who argued in two separate cases they should not have to provide contraceptive insurance coverage for their employees--despite Obamacare's requirements--because doing so would violate their religious beliefs.

Religious freedom is also at the heart of a pending case the court has not yet agreed to hear, testing whether businesses can refuse, on religious grounds, to provide services for same-sex weddings.

Over the past few months, the justices have repeatedly listed the case for discussion at their private conferences where they decide which cases to hear. Gorsuch could provide the fourth vote needed to grant review.

Meanwhile, at Constitution Daily, Lyle Denniston notes that Gorsuch's "first assignment will be a role as a 'Circuit Justice' with the duty to handle emergency matters that come up from a lower court in one of the nation's 13 federal circuits."

Denniston reports:

One of the most significant emergency matters that is likely to reach the court soon, perhaps this month, would be a request to take some preliminary action on President [Donald] Trump's executive order limiting entry into this country of foreign nationals from Mideast nations. Although the question may arise in a preliminary sense, it could be as important as whether the government can enforce key parts of the controversial presidential order.

When the eight-member court last took a significant action in a major controversy over immigration policy, it split 4-to-4 last term and thus left intact lower court rulings that had barred President [Barack] Obama from putting into effect his delayed deportation order for individuals who had lived for long periods in the U.S. after having entered illegally or having stayed illegally after their arrival.

There are real similarities between the issues of presidential power surrounding both the Obama and Trump initiatives. A Gorsuch vote on the Trump order thus could turn out to be crucial.

For more on how Gorsuch may rule on upcoming cases, check out Adam Feldman's analysis at Empirical SCOTUS, for which he examined "how Gorsuch reasoned in similar cases while on the 10th Circuit, and appl[ied] this reasoning to the Supreme Court cases."

The next round of oral arguments begins April 17.

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