Key court cases shed light on US Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch
Neil Gorsuch has taken part in more than 2,000 court cases as an appeals court judge. Here are seven that offer insights into his legal views as he faces questioning this week in a U.S. Senate hearing on his nomination to become a Supreme Court justice.
Transam Trucking Inc v. Department of Labor, 2016
This case shows, liberals say, that Gorsuch rules for employers at the expense of workers. In it, he dissented from a three-judge panel that ruled in favor of truck driver Alphonse Maddin. He was fired after he disobeyed a supervisor and abandoned his trailer at roadside after its brakes froze. The panel ruled he was wrongly terminated. Gorsuch disagreed.
Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch (2016)
In an immigration case, Gorsuch criticized the “Chevron deference” legal doctrine that says courts should defer to federal agencies on interpreting the law. Gorsuch said it concentrates federal power “in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution.” If the court were to roll back the doctrine, presidents would have less leeway to interpret the law when issuing regulations through agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
A.M. v Holmes, 2016
Republicans say Gorsuch does not put politics above the law and follows his own path. In some criminal cases, he has come down hard on prosecutors or government officials, while also sometimes defying colleagues on the bench. In this case, he decried the handcuffing and arrest of a seventh-grade “class clown” in Albuquerque who refused to stop burping in class, saying the police officer involved should not have gotten immunity from suit. Paraphrasing Charles Dickens, he said the law is not as much of an “ass” as to allow for that.
U.S. v Carloss 2016
Standing up for homeowners’ property rights, Gorsuch dissented from a decision to admit evidence discovered by police officers who approached, and later entered, a home despite several “No trespassing” signs outside. He lampooned the idea that the government can knock on anyone’s door, at any time, saying homeowners might be surprised to learn that “No trespassing signs have become little more than lawn art.”
Druley v Patton (2015)
In a ruling highlighted by liberal activists as a sign he may be hostile to gay and transgender rights, Gorsuch joined a ruling against a transgender Oklahoma state prisoner who claimed prison officials violated her rights by denying her adequate hormone therapy and housing her with men. The court rejected her claims, saying she had not proved she would be “irreparably harmed without her requested hormone treatment.”
Hwang v. Kansas State University, 2014
In a case criticized by liberals, Gorsuch wrote the opinion when a three-judge panel ruled against Kansas State University professor Grace Hwang. She got six months of sick leave from the school when she was diagnosed with cancer. When she asked for more time, Kansas State refused. Hwang alleged illegal disability discrimination. Gorsuch said Hwang was a capable teacher and was legally disabled. But he wrote: “There’s also no question she wasn’t able to perform the essential functions of her job even with a reasonable accommodation.” He said the law was not intended to “turn employers into safety net providers for those who cannot work.” Hwang has since died.
Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, 2013
Liberals say this case shows Gorsuch sides with corporations over people and favors religious liberty over other interests, including womens’ contraceptive rights. Retailer Hobby Lobby argued it should not have to provide insurance coverage for female employees’ birth control, defying a rule by the administration of former President Barack Obama. Gorsuch concurred in an opinion favoring the company and expressed sympathy for evangelical Christian business owners. The Supreme Court later upheld the decision for the company.
(Compiled by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa Shumaker)