But sure as spring must turn to summer, all far-right Supreme Court justices must eventually reveal the true contours of their judicial ideologies. And in that sense, Monday—the last day of the Court’s current term, and our biggest chance yet to see what kind of justice Gorsuch will be—was both illuminating and depressing.
Gorsuch found time to assert his opposition to the rights of same-sex parents, death row inmates, and refugees, all while attempting to bolster the rights of gun owners and churches. All in one day!
Here’s a rundown of what Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointee accomplished on Monday.
Early on Monday, six of the nine justices ruled that the Arkansas Department of Health should be required to list both parents of any newborn baby on that baby’s birth certificate – even when the parents are two men or two women.
State officials had previously refused to list two same-sex parents on a baby’s birth certificate, even when the baby was born to a married couple that had used artificial insemination. And lawyers for the state of Arkansas had argued that the parental rights conferred by birth certificates stem from biology, not marriage.
But the majority of the justices weren’t buying that argument, and noted that when straight couples were involved, Arkansas officials hadn’t emphasized biology at all. Birth mothers had long been allowed to list their husbands on birth certificates, even when those husbands weren’t the biological fathers of the babies.
Gorsuch, however, disagreed, as did Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Gorsuch wrote that the justices should have accepted the case for oral argument, rather than summarily dismissing it.
“Nothing in Obergefell spoke (let alone clearly) to the question” of whether “biology-based birth registration regimes” are unconstitutional, Gorsuch wrote.
On Monday morning, the justices also agreed to hear arguments on the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which is targeted at citizens from six majority-Muslim countries.
They’ll hear the case in October. In the meantime, the travel ban will be in effect for anyone who doesn’t have a “bona fide relationship” to people or institutions in the United States. That decision creates the most uncertainty for refugees, only some of whom have relatives in the United States.
As Tara Golshan reports at Vox, it isn’t clear whether a refugee family’s previous contact with a resettlement agency, like World Relief or Lutheran Social Services, would be enough to meet the “bona fide relationship” bar.
But in the meantime, Gorsuch — again siding with Alito and Thomas — went out of his way to make it clear where he’s leaning. The three justices said they would have gone even further, upholding the entire ban on all citizens of the six countries until the high court hears the case in the fall.
“I agree with the Court’s implicit conclusion that the Government has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits,” Thomas wrote, in an opinion Gorsuch and Alito signed. “Weighing the Government’s interest in preserving national security against the hardships caused to respondents by temporary denials of entry into the country, the balance of equities favors the Government.”
On Monday, Gorsuch also provided the fifth vote in a complicated death-row case involving Erick Davila, who was convicted of shooting a 5-year-old girl and her grandmother in Fort Worth in 2008.
As the Texas Tribune notes, Davila was convicted in part because a judge incorrectly told a jury that Davila’s intentions did not matter when it came to his punishment:
If the jury had believed Davila only intended to kill one person, he would have been ineligible for a capital murder verdict and the death penalty would have been off the table. In this case, Davila must have intended to kill multiple people to be found guilty of capital murder.
During deliberations, the jury asked the judge for clarification on the intent issue, and the judge said Davila would be responsible for the crime if the only difference between what happened and his intention was that a different person was hurt. He did not affirm to the jury that Davila must have intended to kill more than one person to be found guilty.
Although Davila’s trial lawyer objected to the judge’s incorrect instructions, that lawyer was overruled. And later, the state lawyers appointed to Davila’s case never brought the objection up at all.
The court’s liberal wing — Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — made it clear they felt that Davila’s right to counsel had been violated.
But Gorsuch provided the key fifth vote. Now, Tarrant County can go forward and set an execution date.
Just before all the rulings came down, the justices also announced they would not be hearing Peruta v. California, a case about whether all U.S. citizens should have the right to carry concealed guns in public spaces.
The Supreme Court has previously ruled that Americans do have a constitutional right to bear arms in the privacy of their homes, but states still have the power to ban concealed carry in public places. That could all change if the court hears a case like Peruta.
Luckily, a case must get four “yes” votes to be added to the Supreme Court’s calendar — and this case apparently couldn’t clear that bar. But two justices made it clear they wished the court had taken the case. Once again, those justices were Gorsuch and Thomas, who made it clear they want to open the door to more relaxed gun legislation across the country.
Maybe next term, guys.
Not content with what he’d done so far, Gorsuch also voted on Monday that a state can’t deny public funds to churches just because those churches are religious organizations.
The case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, hinged on a question of whether the state of Missouri was required to give a state grant to Trinity Lutheran Church, which wanted to make its playground material softer for children.
Gorsuch was just one of seven votes in favor of the church, but the decision prompted a furious dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
“The Court today profoundly changes [the church-state] relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church,” she wrote. “Its decision slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.”
Congrats on getting through your first term, Justice Gorsuch! We’ll see you again in October.