How Neil Gorsuch Could Affect These Supreme Court Cases

April 7th 2017

Lita Martinez

After an unprecedented 14-month wait, following the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Judge Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate on Friday, as the 113th justice to serve on the Supreme Court.

During his confirmation hearings, Gorsuch insisted he wouldn't let politics — nor the president who nominated him — influence his decisions on the bench, but legal analysts say his track record as a federal appeals judge shows he could be even more conservative than his predecessor. 

It may not take very long to know for sure: thanks to the timing of his confirmation, he'll make his first decision from the high court by this summer.

Gorsuch is expected to be officially sworn in on Monday, and he'll have to get right to work in the days following the ceremony. The Supreme Court will start hearing the final round of oral arguments for the year on April 17th, and it will roll out decisions by the end of June.

Since Gorsuch will be confirmed near the end of the court's session for the year, he won't weigh in on cases that have already been argued unless the justices go into a 4-4 tie. In that event, they'll order a second round of arguments, with Gorsuch in attendance.

And with a nine-justice court back in action, legal observers are now looking at ways Gorsuch's vote could tilt the scales one way or the other in the cases already scheduled for this month.

Many of those cases could have a big impact on worker's rights — an area where Gorsuch's critics said he delivered some of his more controversial decisions as a federal appeals judge. One notable case that came up during his confirmation was the so-called "frozen trucker" decision, where Gorsuch sided with a trucking company that fired a driver for abandoning his trailer in subzero temperatures.

And since the balance of the Supreme Court now skews more toward conservatives, all eyes will be on Gorsuch's decision in an upcoming case that has major implications for the separation of church and state.

It involves a church that was denied funds from the state of Missouri to renovate a playground; the church argues that the state's policy against giving money to religious organizations is unconstitutional. 

Religious rights organizations are expecting Gorsuch to be the deciding vote in this case. He was one of the lower court judges who sided with the craft supply chain Hobby Lobby when it sued the federal government over an Obamacare rule requiring businesses to provide contraceptive coverage to workers. That decision, which was later upheld by the Supreme Court, held that businesses don't have to offer workers contraception it conflicts with the owner's religious beliefs.

Gorsuch will also play a significant role in which cases will be heard by the court in the future. During their session, justices regularly meet to decide which petitions to consider. The first such conference with Gorsuch is scheduled for April 13; however, the court typically doesn't say how each justice votes in those meetings.

The raft of cases under consideration range from LGBT discrimination to gun control, and it's possible the Supreme Court will soon have to take up legal challenges to President Trump's immigration travel ban as well.