Supreme Court Nominations

Gorsuch could be more conservative than Justice Clarence Thomas, study concludes


Neil Gorsuch

If U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch wins confirmation, he could be the most conservative justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, according to an analysis by two political science professors.

Their study examined U.S. Supreme Court cases that reviewed opinions by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after Gorsuch joined the appeals court in 2006, according to an article by the professors in the Washington Post. By focusing on those opinions, the researchers were able to compare Gorsuch’s votes with that of current justices on the same cases.

The professors’ conclusion: Gorsuch’s actual votes on cases suggest he is more conservative than the justice he would replace—the late Antonin Scalia—as well as more conservative than Justice Clarence Thomas—by a substantial margin.

“The magnitude of the gap between Gorsuch and Thomas is roughly the same as the gap between Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kennedy during the same time period,” according to the professors, Ryan Black of Michigan State University and Ryan Owens of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “In fact, our results suggest that Gorsuch and Justice Scalia would be as far apart as Justices Breyer and Chief Justice Roberts.”

Though Gorsuch’s votes on the 10th Circuit put him to the right of Scalia and Thomas, “his overall judicial philosophy is quite in line with Scalia’s,” the professors say. “He writes opinions that are as clear and engaging as Scalia’s opinions, but with fewer attacks. He is also a textualist as Scalia was. He interprets legal provisions according to the meaning they had when adopted. He appears to shun balancing tests and legislative history.”

The big difference between Gorsuch and Scalia is that Gorsuch will be less likely to defer to administrative agencies than Scalia was, the professors say.

Typo in last paragraph corrected at 11:30 a.m.


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