Gorsuch lively in 1st top court arguments

ReutersWASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. President Donald Trump’s appointee Neil Gorsuch on Monday showed himself to be a frequent and energetic questioner during U.S. Supreme Court arguments in his first day hearing cases as a justice, at one point even apologizing for talking too much.

Gorsuch, whose confirmation to the lifetime job restored the court’s conservative majority, exhibited composure and confidence, sitting on the far right of the bench in the ornate courtroom, alongside liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor. He appeared relaxed, gingerly sipping from a disposable coffee cup.

The justices, with the exception of the usually silent Clarence Thomas, are known for their aggressive questioning, and Gorsuch showed no qualms about jumping right in. Eight times during the course of three one-hour arguments Gorsuch peppered attorneys with a series of pointed questions.

The court had its full complement of nine justices, five conservatives and four liberals, for arguments for the first time since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016.

Gorsuch formally joined the Supreme Court on April 10 after being confirmed three days earlier by the Republican-led Senate over broad Democratic opposition.

The Coloradoan came across as temperamentally different from the sometimes hard-edged New Yorker Scalia, offering respectful but firm questioning even when the lawyer facing his queries seemed evasive.

“I’m sorry for interrupting, counselor,” Gorsuch told one of the lawyers in the second case, a property dispute from New York state. “If you would just answer my question, I would be grateful.”

In the first case, an employment dispute, Gorsuch grilled lawyer Christopher Landau, who represented a man claiming he was discriminated against by the U.S. Census Bureau, over the fine points of a law governing civil service employees.

“I’m sorry for taking up so much time, I apologize,” Gorsuch said after his first lengthy exchange, sitting back in his high-backed chair and smiling.

Chief Justice John Roberts welcomed Gorsuch to the court before oral arguments began. “Justice Gorsuch, we wish you a long and happy career in our common calling,” Roberts said.

Gorsuch responded by thanking his new colleagues for their “warm welcome.”

Gorsuch asked a string of questions about complicated federal law. As he indicated during his Senate confirmation hearing last month, his line of inquiry focused on the text of a statute, an approach also embraced by Scalia and other conservative jurists.

“Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we followed the plain text of the statute? What am I missing?” Gorsuch asked government lawyer Brian Fletcher in the employment case.Speech

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