Senate Democrats savaged Justice Neil Gorsuch’s early performance on the Supreme Court, as his first rulings reveal an important shift in the balance of power on the high court.
Three Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee gave grave assessments of the junior justice’s first months on the bench to Politico, lamenting that he has proved a stalwart of the Court’s conservative majority.
“We’ve got another Scalia,” the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, told Politico. “Right down the line. Everything — everything,” she added, in reference to his continued adherence to textualist and originalist positions. “I’m surprised that it’s so comprehensive.”
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who repeatedly insinuated that the justice was a handmaiden of monied right-wing interests during his confirmation hearing, took something of a victory lap, telling Politico that he has already proved himself a willing “tool of the creepy billionaire coalition.”
“It sure looks like I was right,” Whitehouse said. “It’s too early to draw any final conclusions, but the early signals are ominous about him being the tool of the creepy billionaire coalition.”
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun, argued Gorsuch had shown little of his vaunted independent streak.
“In a way, I’m surprised that he hasn’t demonstrated more independence,” he told Politico. “I am surprised because in his demeanor and his tone he really made a huge effort to show his openness — which some of us thought might be more an act than it was a real persona.”
This evaluation does not quite track Gorsuch’s first months on the Court. The justice wrote separately seven times in his first two months on the bench, as many times as Justice Elena Kagan wrote separately in her first two years.
Progressive commentators have been similarly critical of Gorsuch’s first term as a justice, particularly as regards LGBT rights. The justice wrote a short dissent from the Court’s per curiam opinion in Pavan v. Smith, an Arkansas case involving the state’s refusal to print the name of a non-biological LGBT parent on a birth certificate.
His opinion, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, primarily concerned the Court’s decision to summarily reverse the Arkansas Supreme Court, which found in favor of the state. Summary reversal is a rare practice generally saved for obvious errors of law in which the justices reverse a lower court without briefing and oral argument.
The Supreme Court concluded its business for the 2016 term this week and will reconvene in October.
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