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As the cameras clicked, some justices smiled broadly, others looked slightly annoyed with having to participate in a formality that comes as the justices are racing to finish the last opinions of the term. Chief Justice John Roberts sat in the first row, flanked by the two most senior justices: Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg abandoned her usually lacy neck collar for a colorful beaded “jabot.”
Gorsuch, 49, the most junior justice, stood in the back row at times whispering with a smiling Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The court is at full strength again after the justices spent several months trying to dodge 4-4 splits while Gorsuch grappled with a particularly bitter confirmation process. Now they are united in a common pursuit of finishing up outstanding opinions before the court’s summer recess, slated to begin by July.
After his confirmation in April, Gorsuch wasted no time peppering advocates at oral arguments with questions, even sitting for a major religious liberty case.
“He’s extraordinarily diligent,” said Ginsburg at en event last week hosted by the Aspen Institute. She noted that he had sat for arguments one week after his confirmation and heard 13 cases.
“Somehow he was well prepared,” she said.
Unlike the general public, Ginsburg by now has more than an inkling of Gorsuch’s ideological bent, having witnessed his voting patterns behind closed doors.
“I imagine that when you compare how I vote and he votes it will be just the same as it was when you compared me to Justice Scalia,” she told the audience.
If past is precedent, Gorsuch has likely already been assigned a non-controversial case to pen for his first opinion.
Besides religious liberty, there are other important outstanding cases concerning immigration and trademark registration as well as a case brought by plaintiffs seeking to hold former high level administration figures accountable for post-9/11 policies.
The court could also see in the coming days an appeal from the Trump administration of a lower court ruling that blocked the President’s travel ban. That will test the newly appointed Gorsuch, who will vote on a key initiative crafted by the president who nominated him.
The justices are also meeting regularly to consider whether to take up major cases for next term on hot-button issues such as religious liberty, the Second Amendment and a follow-up to the same-sex marriage opinion from a couple of years ago.