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Politics & Government

SCOTUSblog Co-Founder: Gorsuch To Have 'Immediate Impact' On Court

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to hear more about Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado. Here's Trump last night as he announced his pick.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Not only are we looking at the writings of the nominee - and I studied them closely - but he is said to be among the finest and most brilliant - oftentimes, the writings - of any judge for a long, long time.

CORNISH: We wanted to have a closer look at those writings - what's in them - so we called Tom Goldstein. He's the co-founder and publisher of SCOTUSblog. Welcome to the program.

TOM GOLDSTEIN: Thanks so much.

CORNISH: So, first, let's talk about that writing and specifically writing style. On SCOTUSblog, you guys wrote that he was an incisive legal writer with a flair that at least evokes the justice whose seat he would be nominated to fill, meaning Antonin Scalia. Why does that matter so much?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, there's really been a move in recent years to make legal writing and judicial opinions more accessible so the general public can understand what's going on. For a long time, lawyers and judges were rightly criticized for writing in really cloudy, opaque fancy terms that nobody could understand. And so one of Justice Scalia's projects was to make it interesting and fun and entertaining and insightful to read a judicial opinion. And Neil Gorsuch has really embraced that. He really wants you to get what he's talking about. He wants it to be open not hidden.

CORNISH: Now, speaking of Scalia, you guys wrote that the parallels between the two can be downright eerie when it comes to their approach to the law. What did you mean by that?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, if you go from area of decision to area of decision, whether it's religion, whether it's how to read statutes as something more broadly - the laws that Congress passes - they really are incredibly similar in their approaches. Gorsuch does seem to - almost to have modeled himself on Scalia across area one after another.

CORNISH: Where might Gorsuch find common ground, say, with more liberal justices?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, I think that there were places where Justice Scalia did in terms of reading the criminal laws narrowly in order to make it harder to criminally prosecute someone without a law that's very clear that Congress passed. But on big issues like civil rights, employment, discrimination on things like race and affirmative action or gun rights, I don't think there's likely to be a ton of common ground. He's just likely to be extremely personable about it. He's not going to get into huge angry fights. But the differences in approaches are pretty stark.

CORNISH: With his personal writing, he has explored the issue of physician-assisted suicide. Can you give us a sense of his position there and how that would help us understand how he feels about life issues?

GOLDSTEIN: Sure. He wrote a book about the right to euthanasia, and his take on it was that there - you know, nothing in the Constitution gives that right so that the government can prohibit it. And what that tells you, I think, more broadly, is that he is unlikely to read into kind of broad passages of the Constitution about, for example, due process of the laws, constitutional rights. And that's probably going to give real concern to, for example, abortion rights organizations.

CORNISH: If he's confirmed, I guess it's possible he could be taking his spot on the bench in April or May. What significance could that have for this year's docket?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, the Supreme Court has actually been holding on to some significant cases, including a case about religion in the hope that it would get a ninth Justice who could break 4-4 ties in three or four cases. So he's going to have an immediate impact because the court will, if there are 4-4 ties now, it will hold cases over. So on some, you know, pretty significant hot-button questions, he will be changing outcomes in cases almost certainly.

We don't have a big abortion case on the docket, but we have some important decisions. And those other cases are now going to be coming because conservative activists will see that they now have their solid majority back. And they've been holding fire for, you know, 10 months or so not knowing what direction the Supreme Court was going to tilt.

CORNISH: Tom Goldstein is co-founder and publisher of SCOTUSblog. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

GOLDSTEIN: Oh, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.