Gorsuch served as a law clerk for Judge David B. Sentelle of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1991 to 1992. After spending a year at Oxford as a Marshall Scholar, Gorsuch clerked for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy from 1993 to 1994. His work with White occurred right after White retired from the Supreme Court; therefore, Gorsuch assisted White with his work on the Tenth Circuit, where White sat by designation. Gorsuch was part of a group of five law clerks assigned that year that included Brett Kavanaugh, who described Gorsuch at the time, saying: "He fit into the place very easily. He's just an easy guy to get along with. He doesn't have sharp elbows. We had a wide range of views, but we all really got along well."
In 2005, at Kellogg Huber, Gorsuch wrote a brief denouncing class action lawsuits by attorneys on behalf of shareholders. In the case of Dura Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Broudo, Gorsuch opined, "The free ride to fast riches enjoyed by securities class action attorneys in recent years appeared to hit a speed bump" and "the problem is that securities fraud litigation imposes an enormous toll on the economy, affecting virtually every public corporation in America at one time or another and costing businesses billions of dollars in settlements every year".
In Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (2007), he joined Judge Michael W. McConnell's dissent from the denial of rehearing en banc, taking the view that the government's display of a donated Ten Commandments monument in a public park did not obligate the government to display other offered monuments. The Supreme Court subsequently adopted most of the dissent's view, reversing the Tenth Circuit's judgment. Gorsuch has written, "the law [...] doesn't just apply to protect popular religious beliefs: it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation's long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance".
Gorsuch has called for reconsideration of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (1984), in which the Supreme Court instructed courts to grant deference to federal agencies' interpretation of ambiguous laws and regulations. In Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch (2016), Gorsuch wrote for a unanimous panel finding that court review was required before an executive agency could reject the circuit court's interpretation of an immigration law.
In 2013, Gorsuch joined a unanimous panel finding that federal courts could not hear a challenge to Colorado's internet sales tax. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed that ruling in Direct Marketing Ass'n v. Brohl (2015). In 2016, the Tenth Circuit panel rejected the challenger's dormant commerce clause claim, with Gorsuch writing a concurrence.
In Energy and Environmental Legal Institute v. Joshua Epel (2015), Gorsuch held that Colorado's mandates for renewable energy did not violate the commerce clause by putting out-of-state coal companies at a disadvantage. He wrote that the Colorado renewable energy law "isn't a price-control statute, it doesn't link prices paid in Colorado with those paid out of state, and it does not discriminate against out-of-staters".
In Riddle v. Hickenlooper (2014), Gorsuch joined a unanimous panel of the Tenth Circuit in finding that it was unconstitutional for a Colorado law to set the limit on donations for write-in candidates at half the amount for major party candidates. He added a concurrence noting that although the standard of review of campaign finance in the United States is unclear, the Colorado law would fail even under intermediate scrutiny.
In Planned Parenthood v. Herbert (2016), Gorsuch wrote for the four dissenting judges when the Tenth Circuit denied a full rehearing of a divided panel opinion that had ordered the Utah governor to resume the organization's funding, which Herbert had blocked in response to a video controversy.
In A.M. v. Holmes (2016), the Tenth Circuit considered a case in which a 13-year-old child was arrested for burping and laughing in gym class. The child was handcuffed and arrested based on a New Mexico statute that makes it a misdemeanor to disrupt school activities. The child's family brought a federal § 1983 civil rights action against school officials and the school resource officer who made the arrest, arguing that it was a false arrest that violated the child's constitutional rights. In a 94-page majority opinion, the Tenth Circuit held that the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity from suit. Gorsuch wrote a four-page dissent, arguing that the New Mexico Court of Appeals had "long ago alerted law enforcement" that the statute that the officer relied upon for the child's arrest does not criminalize noises or diversions that merely disturb order in a classroom.
In 2009, Gorsuch wrote for a unanimous panel finding that a court may still order criminals to pay restitution even after it missed a statutory deadline. The Supreme Court affirmed that ruling 5–4 in Dolan v. United States (2010).
In United States v. Games-Perez (2012), Gorsuch ruled on a case where a felon owned a gun in violation of 18 U.S.C.§ 922(g)(1), but alleged that he did not know that he was a felon at the time. Gorsuch joined the majority in upholding the conviction based on Tenth Circuit precedent, but filed a concurring opinion arguing that said precedent was wrongly decided: "The only statutory element separating innocent (even constitutionally protected) gun possession from criminal conduct in §§ 922(g) and 924(a) is a prior felony conviction. So the presumption that the government must prove mens rea here applies with full force." In the 2019 case Rehaif v. United States, the Supreme Court overruled this decision, with Gorsuch joining.
In 2013, Gorsuch joined a unanimous panel finding that intent does not need to be proven under a bank fraud statute. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed that ruling in Loughrin v. United States (2014). In 2015, Gorsuch wrote a dissent to the denial of rehearing en banc when the Tenth Circuit found that a convicted sex offender had to register with Kansas after he moved to the Philippines. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit in Nichols v. United States (2016).
McClendon v. City of Albuquerque, 630 F. 3d 1288 (2011), dismissing class action lawsuit over inhumane jail conditions
Public Service Co. of New Mexico v. NLRB, 692 F. 3d 1068 (2012), dismissing a union's claim that the NLRB was wrong to not find an unfair labor practice, when an employer dismissed a worker for deliberately disconnecting a customer's gas supply (no evidence that it treated this employee differently)
United States v. Games-Perez, 695 F. 3d 1104 (2012), on imprisonment without trial
Niemi v. Lasshofer, 728 F. 3d 1252 (2013) fugitive disentitlement doctrine
Riddle v. Hickenlooper, 742 F. 3d 922 (2014), stating: "No one before us disputes that the act of contributing to political campaigns implicates a 'basic constitutional freedom,' one lying 'at the foundation of a free society' and enjoying a significant relationship to the right to speak and associate—both expressly protected First Amendment activities. Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 26 (1976)"
Yellowbear v. Lampert, 741 F. 3d 48 (2014), freedom to practice religion in prison
United States v. Mitchell (2016), evidence, tracking without a warrant
NLRB v. Community Health Services, 812 F.3d 768 (2016), dissenting, arguing against an NLRB decision that interim earnings should not be disregarded when calculating back pay for employees whose hours were unlawfully reduced
Trump formally transmitted his nomination to the Senate on February 1, 2017. The American Bar Association unanimously gave Gorsuch its top rating—"Well Qualified"—to serve as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. His confirmation hearing before the Senate started on March 20, 2017.
On April 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved his nomination with a party-line 11–9 vote. On April 6, 2017, Democrats filibustered (prevented cloture) the confirmation vote, after which Republicans invoked the "nuclear option", allowing a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee to be broken by a simple majority vote.
John Finnis, who supervised Gorsuch's dissertation at Oxford, said, "The allegation is entirely without foundation. The book is meticulous in its citation of primary sources. The allegation that the book is guilty of plagiarism because it does not cite secondary sources which draw on those same primary sources is, frankly, absurd." Kuzma said, "I have reviewed both passages and do not see an issue here, even though the language is similar. These passages are factual, not analytical in nature, framing both the technical legal and medical circumstances of the 'Baby/Infant Doe' case that occurred in 1982." In his book on Gorsuch, John Greenya described how Gorsuch was challenged during his confirmation hearings concerning some of his dissertation advisor's more strident views, which Gorsuch generally disagreed with.
On April 7, 2017, the Senate confirmed Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court by a 54–45 vote, with three Democrats (Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly) joining all Republicans in attendance.
Gorsuch received his commission on April 8, 2017. He was sworn into office on Monday, April 10, 2017, in two ceremonies. The chief justice of the United States administered the constitutional oath of office in a private ceremony at 9 a.m. at the Supreme Court, making Gorsuch the 101st associate justice of the Court. At 11 a.m., Justice Kennedy administered the judicial oath of office in a public ceremony at the White House Rose Garden.
U.S. Supreme Court (2017–present)
Gorsuch wrote his first U.S. Supreme Court decision for a unanimous court in Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc., 582 U.S. ___ (2017). The Court ruled against the borrowers, holding that Santander in this case was not a debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act since it purchased the original defaulted car loans from CitiFinancial for pennies on the dollar, making Santander the owner of the debts and not merely an agent. When the act was enacted, regulations were put on institutions that collected other companies' debts, but the act left unaddressed businesses collecting their own debts.
Gorsuch authored the majority opinion in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (2022), which concerned a public high school football coach who was fired for praying on the field after games. The opinion held that the coach's conduct was protected by both the Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment, and that the school's attempt to stop him was not mandated by the amendment's Establishment Clause.
In 2017, in Pavan v. Smith, the Supreme Court "summarily overruled" the Arkansas Supreme Court's decision to deny same-sex married parents the same right to appear on the birth certificate. Gorsuch wrote a dissent, joined by Thomas and Alito, arguing that the Court should have fully heard the arguments of the case.
In 2020, Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in the combined cases of Bostock v. Clayton County, Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, ruling that businesses cannot discriminate in employment against LGBTQ people. He argued that discrimination based on sexual orientation was illegal discrimination on the basis of sex, because the employer would be discriminating "for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex". The ruling was 6–3, with Gorsuch joined by Chief Justice Roberts and the Court's four Democratic appointees. Justices Thomas, Alito, and Kavanaugh dissented from the decision, arguing that it improperly extended the Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
In October 2020, Gorsuch agreed with the justices in an "apparently unanimous" decision to deny an appeal from Kim Davis, a county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In June 2021, he joined the justices in the unanimous Fulton v. City of Philadelphia decision, ruling in favor of a Catholic adoption agency that had been denied a contract by the City of Philadelphia due to the agency's refusal to adopt to same-sex couples. Gorsuch and Thomas joined Alito's concurrence, which argued for reconsidering, possibly overturning, Employment Division v. Smith, "an important precedent limiting First Amendment protections for religious practices." Also in 2021, Gorsuch was one of three justices, with Thomas and Alito, who voted to hear an appeal from a Washington State florist who had refused service to a same-sex couple based on her religious beliefs against same-sex marriage. In November 2021, Gorsuch dissented from the Court's 6–3 decision to reject an appeal from Mercy San Juan Medical Center, a hospital affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, which had sought to deny a hysterectomy to a transgender patient on religious grounds. The decision to reject the appeal left in place a lower court ruling in the patient's favor; Thomas and Alito also dissented.
Gorsuch wrote a statement regarding the denial of an application for a stay presented to Roberts in Guedes v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, a 2019 D.C. Circuit case challenging the Trump administration's ban on bump stocks. In his statement Gorsuch criticized the Trump Administration's action as well as the justification the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit used for upholding the ban.
In December 2018, Gorsuch dissented when the Court voted against hearing cases brought by the states of Louisiana and Kansas to deny Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. He and Alito joined Thomas's dissent arguing that it was the Court's job to hear the case.
In February 2019, Gorsuch sided with three of the Court's other conservative justices, rejecting a stay to temporarily block a law restricting abortion in Louisiana. The law that the court temporarily stayed, in a 5–4 decision, would require that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges in a hospital. In June 2020, the Supreme Court struck down Louisiana's abortion restriction in June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo, a 5–4 decision; Gorsuch was among the four dissenters. In September 2021, the Supreme Court declined a petition to block a Texas law banning abortion after six weeks; the vote was 5–4 with Gorsuch in the majority, joined by Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, and Barrett.
Gorsuch is regarded as an authority on American Indian law. During his time on the Supreme Court, he has frequently affirmed tribal rights; his appointment to the Court was supported by multiple tribes and Native American organizations due to his favorable rulings as a Tenth Circuit judge.
In March 2019, Gorsuch joined the four liberal justices (in two plurality opinions) in a 5–4 majority in Washington State Dept. of Licensing v. Cougar Den, Inc. The Court's decision sided with the Yakama Nation, striking down a Washington state tax on transporting gasoline, on the basis of an 1855 treaty in which the Yakama ceded a large portion of Washington in exchange for certain rights. In his concurrence, which was joined by Ginsburg, Gorsuch ended his opinion by writing: "Really, this case just tells an old and familiar story. The State of Washington includes millions of acres that the Yakamas ceded to the United States under significant pressure. In return, the government supplied a handful of modest promises. The state is now dissatisfied with the consequences of one of those promises. It is a new day, and now it wants more. But today and to its credit, the Court holds the parties to the terms of their deal. It is the least we can do."
In May 2019, Gorsuch again joined the four more liberal justices in a decision favorable to Native Americans' treaty rights, signing on to Justice Sotomayor's opinion to reach a 5–4 decision in Herrera v. Wyoming. The case held that hunting rights in Montana and Wyoming, granted by the U.S. government to the Native American Crow people by an 1868 treaty, were not extinguished by the 1890 grant of statehood to Wyoming.
In July 2020, Gorsuch again joined the liberal justices to make a 5–4 majority in McGirt v. Oklahoma. The case considered whether much of eastern Oklahoma still remained under the jurisdiction of the "Five Civilized Tribes", given that the Native American Treaties that had designated the region as under their reservation status had never been dissolved by Congress, and, if so, whether crimes committed by Native Americans against other Native Americans on tribal land were under the jurisdiction of Native Courts. The landmark decision in the affirmative, written by Gorsuch, found that "For Major Crimes Act purposes, land reserved for the Creek Nation since the 19th century remains 'Indian country.'" In the opinion, he wrote: "Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word." The case was later reviewed in the June 2022 case Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, which considered whether non-Natives who committed crimes against Natives on Native American territory can be charged under the sole jurisdiction of Native American tribal courts. While the state of Oklahoma had initially argued for the overturning of McGirt, the Court agreed to hear only issues relating to the impacts of McGirt. The 5-4 decision by Justice Brett Kavanaugh opposed the more expanded viewpoint of non-Native criminal jurisdiction, with the opinion giving jurisdiction over such crimes to both tribal and federal/state governments. Gorsuch derided the opinion in his dissent, writing, "Where this Court once stood firm, today it wilts."
On June 15, 2022, Gorsuch, Barrett, and the three liberal justices ruled in favor of the Native American Tribes of Texas in the case Ysleta del Sur Pueblo v. Texas. The case concerned a dispute over whether Texas could control and regulate gambling on Texan Native American reservations. The initial conflict had developed from the tribes' having been in a trust with Texas from 1968 to 1987 before being granted a federal trust, resulting in a statute governing the tribes' subjugation to Texas's gambling restrictions. The ruling emphasized that the tribes have the power to regulate electronic bingo games on their land regardless of the state's prohibition of non-prohibited gambling. Thus, as long as a game is not outright prohibited by the state of Texas, the state government cannot impose regulations upon tribal games. Gorsuch emphasized in his opinion that "None of this is to say that the Tribe may offer gaming on whatever terms it wishes [...] Other gaming activities are subject to tribal regulation and must conform to the terms and conditions set forth in federal law."
On November 26, 2020, Gorsuch joined the majority opinion in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, which struck down COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the state of New York on houses of worship.
On May 18, 2023, Gorsuch issued a statement about the Court's decision to dismiss a lawsuit by several states aimed at continuing Title 42 expulsions of immigrants, a policy instituted to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 cases to the United States. His statement criticized many of the restrictions the government had imposed since the pandemic started and said, "Since March 2020, we may have experienced the greatest intrusions on civil liberties in the peacetime history of this country."
Gorsuch is a proponent of originalism, the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted as perceived at the time of enactment, and of textualism, the idea that statutes should be interpreted literally, without considering the legislative history and underlying purpose of the law. An editorial in the National Catholic Register opined that Gorsuch's judicial decisions lean more toward natural law philosophy.
In January 2019, Bonnie Kristian of The Week wrote that an "unexpected civil libertarian alliance" was developing between Gorsuch and Sotomayor "in defense of robust due process rights and skepticism of law enforcement overreach."
FiveThirtyEight used Lee Epstein et al.'s Judicial Common Space scores (which are not based on a judge's behavior, but rather the ideology scores of either home state senators or the appointing president) to find a close alignment between the conservatism of other appellate and Supreme Court judges such as Kavanaugh, Thomas, and Alito.The Washington Post's statistical analysis estimated that the ideologies of most of Trump's announced candidates were "statistically indistinguishable" and also associated Gorsuch with Kavanaugh and Alito.
In a 2016 speech at Case Western Reserve University, Gorsuch said that judges should strive to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be—not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best.
In a 2005 National Review article, Gorsuch argued that "American liberals have become addicted to the courtroom, relying on judges and lawyers rather than elected leaders and the ballot box, as the primary means of effecting their social agenda" and that they are "failing to reach out and persuade the public". He wrote that, in doing so, American liberals are circumventing the democratic process on issues like gay marriage, school vouchers, and assisted suicide, and this has led to a compromised judiciary, which is no longer independent. Gorsuch wrote that American liberals' "overweening addiction" to using the courts for social debate is "bad for the nation and bad for the judiciary".
Federalism and state power
Justin Marceau, a professor at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law, called Gorsuch "a predictably socially conservative judge who tends to favor state power over federal power". Marceau added that this is important because federal laws have been used to try to reel in "rogue" state laws in civil rights cases.
Gorsuch has been considered to follow in Scalia's footsteps as a textualist in statutory interpretation of the plain meaning of the law. This was exemplified in his majority opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, 590 U.S. ___ (2020), which ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 grants protection from employment discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity. Gorsuch wrote in the decision, "An employer who fired an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids."
Gorsuch enjoys the outdoors and fly fishing; he went fly fishing on at least one occasion with Justice Scalia. He raises horses, chickens, and goats, and often arranges ski trips with colleagues and friends.
In 2017, after his announcement as a Supreme Court nominee, the New York Times reported that Gorsuch owned a timeshare outside Granby, Colorado, with associates of Philip Anschutz, that was later sold the same year. Reporting from Politico in April 2023 revealed that Gorsuch had sold the cabin to Brian Duffy, the CEO of the law firm Greenberg Traurig, which litigates cases before the Supreme Court, but failed to disclose the purchaser's identity on his federal disclosure forms. The property was listed for sale for a few years but did not go under contract until the week after Gorsuch joined the Supreme Court. Since 2017, Greenberg Traurig has been involved in at least 22 cases before or presented to the Supreme Court.
When the couple returned to the United States they joined Holy Comforter, an Episcopal parish in Vienna, Virginia, attending weekly services. Gorsuch volunteered there as an usher. The Gorsuch family later attended St. John's Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado, a liberal church with a longstanding open-door policy for the LGBT community. During his 2017 confirmation hearing, responding to a senator's question about his faith, Gorsuch replied, "I attend an Episcopal church in Boulder with my family, senator." After marrying in a non-Catholic ceremony and joining an Episcopal church, Gorsuch has not publicly clarified his religious affiliation.
Awards and honors
Gorsuch received the Edward J. Randolph Award for outstanding service to the Department of Justice and the Harry S. Truman Foundation's Stevens Award for outstanding public service in the field of law.
^"Judge Neil M. Gorsuch". Administrative Office of the United States Courts. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved February 6, 2018.