Neil Gorsuch speaks more in one day on bench than Clarence Thomas did in 10 years

Staff and agencies
Neil Gorsuch: not afraid to make his voice heard. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP

Neil Gorsuch, the newest justice on the US supreme court, did not seem shy about making his voice heard on Monday as he took his seat on the bench for the first time to hear arguments.

Gorsuch took less than 15 minutes to begin asking questions during an employment discrimination case. He and his colleagues were hearing cases for the first time since Donald Trump’s choice to replace the late Antonin Scalia was sworn in on 10 April.

The case before the justices involved a technical issue about the process for a federal worker to appeal his discrimination claim. The black-robed Gorsuch asked the worker’s lawyer Christopher Landau four questions in a row about the wording of a statute, saying he was “sorry for taking up so much time”.

Gorsuch later sparred with justice department lawyer Brian Fletcher over the meaning of the Civil Service Reform Act, sticking to his reputation for focusing on the text of the law.

“Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we just followed the plain text of the statute?” Gorsuch asked.

It was the first of three hour-long arguments the high court was set to hear on Monday. The court is back to its full contingent of nine members – five conservatives and four liberals – after being short-handed since Scalia’s death more than 14 months ago.

Gorsuch spoke more during his first day on the bench than fellow judge Clarence Thomas has in a decade. Over the years, Thomas’s silence has been the subject of curiosity and criticism. Some commentators argued the justice neglected his duties by remaining mute. Thomas, however, had said he relied on legal briefs to answer questions.

Gorsuch formally joined the court on 10 April after being confirmed three days earlier by the Republican-led Senate over broad Democratic opposition.

The session started with Chief Justice John Roberts welcoming Gorsuch and wishing him “a long and happy career in our common calling”.

Gorsuch responded briefly to thank Roberts for the “warm welcome”.

Gorsuch took his seat at the end of the bench next to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with the two sharing a laugh together before arguments began.

Gorsuch, at 49 the youngest new justice in a quarter-century, served for a decade on the Denver-based 10th US circuit court of appeals before Trump nominated him in January. Trump was able to fill Scalia’s vacancy only because Senate Republicans last year refused to consider Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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