Neil McGill Gorsuch has officially become an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court after the completion of two oaths on Monday: a general one for federal employees, and a separate one for judges. He has now become our one hundred and thirteenth Justice. It’s good that as a former employee he knows his way around the place, as this term is well underway and some big cases will be heard before Gorsuch’s diplomas and such will have time to be hung.
According to the Court’s calendar, they will next hear arguments on April 17th. Gorsuch will be sworn by then and participate fully in any case heard then and after. What about cases heard this term before he joined the court? Perhaps we should first provide an explanation of how the Supreme Court schedule works.
The Court sits for a certain “term” and cases are customarily heard and decided within a single term. The term starts in the fall and ends in the early summer. The Supreme Court as a coequal branch of government establishes their own rules and can decide cases or not on its own schedule, as the Constitution is generally silent on how the Court must conduct its business. There are extraordinary circumstances when the court deviates, however, and will hold a case over for a new term, or re-hear the case in a subsequent term. The addition of a new justice may meet those conditions.
Current cases that ended in tie votes may be re-argued. If there are cases that have been argued for this term, and the justices who heard the arguments are split four to four on the decision, we might expect them to be added to next term’s cases to be reargued in front of the full nine-member court.
Cases that were heard at the court this term prior to Gorsuch joining but before the opinions are published will likely not be affected.
What’s coming up this term to watch? Here are three of the most significant cases among the many Gorsuch will sit in on for this term:
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Does the First Amendment protect the rights of a baker to refuse to make a cake for a gay couple?
Peruta v. California. Does the Second Amendment entitle citizens to carry handguns outside the home for self-defense, including concealed carry?
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California. This case may establish new rules about how and where class action suits are filed, significantly affecting that whole class of lawsuits.
As noted by the Cato Institute’s constitutional law expert Roger Pilon, while Justice Gorsuch will be one of many former Supreme Court law clerks to later join the Court as a Justice, he will be the first to join it alongside the Justice for whom he clerked. Gorsuch served as a clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy, who currently sits on the court. Will each man be more (or less) persuaded by the arguments of the other because of their experience? Court watchers are most eager to find out, for Kennedy has become a Crucial swing vote in recent years.
So welcome to SCOTUS, Justice Gorsuch. And based on all that has transpired since the inauguration of the president who nominated you, get ready for a full plate and a wild ride.