We speak with Rewire legal analyst Jessica Mason Pieklo about how Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch emerged as one of the court’s most conservative justices as his first term came to an end in June.
AMY GOODMAN: Jessica, you’ve also been writing about the new Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch. Can you talk about how he has affected the court so far, what you’re seeing, and how this will play out for women?
JESSICA MASON PIEKLO: Absolutely. Neil Gorsuch has made his mark on the Supreme Court immediately, and it will be a mark that lasts decades.
During his confirmation process, we heard a lot about what a nice guy Justice Gorsuch is, about how he’s very competent and he’s an excellent legal scholar. All of those things are very true. And we would hope that all of those things would be the base minimum qualifications for anybody on the Supreme Court.
What we failed, in detail, to discuss, largely in the media—I think we did a good job here at Rewire, but what we largely failed to discuss was the substance of his writings and his career. And when we look through the substance not just of his writings, but his career, we see some very conservative things. First and foremost, we see that he worked on torture-in-detention policy during his time at the Department of Justice, which will become increasingly regular as the court hears challenges on things like the Trump administration’s travel ban, the Muslim ban.
We’ve also seen him write extremely conservative concurrences, when he was on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in the Hobby Lobby case, that would have effectively given organizations a blank check to make religious moral objections, not just to the contraception benefit, to laws that are readily applicable. We will see that impact in this coming term in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, a case out of Colorado where a baker refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple on the grounds that he had a moral and religious objection to same-sex marriage. And it wasn’t just that he turned them away. It’s that he explicitly said he wouldn’t bake a cake because they were a gay couple. The Supreme Court has taken that case up, and we will see it.
And, of course, there are the pending rumors of a retirement for Justice Anthony Kennedy. Justice Gorsuch was Anthony Kennedy’s clerk, and there was a lot of speculation that one of the reasons he was the nominee was to help smooth the relationship over with Justice Kennedy. After all, they go way back. They’re friendly. They’re collegial. Should Justice Kennedy retire, and when he does—I mean, he will at some point, whether this term or the next or the following—presuming we still are in a Trump presidency and get a Trump nominee, we can be guaranteed that that justice will be as conservative, if not more so, than Justice Alito. What we’ve seen so far is Justice Gorsuch has voted consistently with Justice Thomas and has placed him on the court’s most conservative side. He’s also very active in oral arguments and combative with both attorneys and his fellow justices. So he will be a big intellectual presence in arguments. When Kennedy retires, that will make Chief Justice John Roberts the swing vote on the court.