US media sizes up Neil Gorsuch’s first court appearances
President Donald Trump’s successful conservative appointment, Neil Gorsuch, made his debut this week, asking the most questions and speaking the most out of all the justices present.
According to US law blogger and Supreme Court observer Adam Feldman, Gorsuch intervened with questions 22 times during the short hearing. The Washington Post said: “Gorsuch waited barely ten minutes … before kicking off what became a long chain of questions.” The newspaper compared him to a “front-row law student” showing off his knowledge, and said he was “active, aggressive and long-winded.”
Gorsuch’s first week on the bench also involved what was touted to be a highly controversial case regarding the state funding of a church nursery in Missouri. The extent to which religious organisations involved in education and other key areas of society should get public money is a key issue in American social and political life.
But the case has, in effect, become academic following a decision in Missouri to green-light the funding anyway.
The “long-winded questioner”, as the Post described Gorsuch this week, was confirmed as the successful nominee on 7 April when the Senate voted 54 to 45 in his favour. He joined the US Supreme Court bench on 10 April, but only after a bitter political battle over his appointment.
In the most recent spat, Democrats filibustered the vote itself, a tactic whereby members manage to extend a debate before a vote with the specific aim of derailing the vote itself (they just keep talking). In response, Republicans changed the voting rules for Gorsuch’s appointment so that only a simple majority was required — under the previous rules Gorsuch would have needed a super-majority, that is 60 votes, to be successfully appointed.
There are concerns that the politicisation of the nomination process is damaging to perceptions of the US Supreme Court itself. Research conducted in 2015 found a marked decrease in how Americans view the court. In the mid-1990s, the vast majority had a favourable opinion of it, but this has dropped to below the 50% mark.
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