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COLUMN: Gorsuch will tip the scales in Supreme Court's new session



When a man wields power that should not belong to him over an alarmingly vulnerable nation, the potential for damage to individuals in that nation is very high.

For once, I am not talking about President Trump. I am referring to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, whose ideological weight will skew the balance of the court in a direction that could potentially harm undocumented immigrants and LGBTQ individuals in this country.

Monday marked the beginning of a new term for the court, which has been operating atypically since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

In its period of atypical operation the Supreme Court’s rulings could not constitute national precedent, and written opinions were not issued if a particular case split the shorthanded justices four to four. 

This session will bring the court back to nine justices, but whether it will also bring order remains to be seen. With cases concerning deportation and discrimination based on sexual orientation facing a decidedly conservative majority, I am skeptical our country’s objectively chaotic condition will improve. 

Among the cases Gorsuch has heard in his history as a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and in his brief experience with the Supreme Court last term, the preponderance of evidence suggests a conservative tenure on the court which could victimize the LGBTQ community or undocumented individuals. 

He will serve alongside Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., whose similar leanings on civil rights and criminal procedure could combine to result in damaging decisions in cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case and Jennings v. Rodriguez case.

If these cases result as one might predict, their rulings — contextualized in a political climate that is already hostile to undocumented immigrants and unsupportive of the LGBTQ community — will effectively place the burden of ideological disputes on the most vulnerable among us. 

Particularly in cases such as Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, Gorsuch’s prior opinions give reason to worry about the stance he will take on discrimination. 

The upcoming Masterpiece v. Colorado case will decide the extent to which businesses can deny goods or services to customers who supposedly impose an ideological dilemma on the owners of the business. 

If Gorsuch continues his trend of privileging a certain definition of religious freedom over the rights of LGBTQ individuals, we may very well come to live in a nation where people's options as consumers will be limited by the beliefs of producers.

Despite an analytical interpretation of Gorsuch’s career in which his rulings suggest moderation, the justification for his decisions elicit reasonable worry for his likelihood to defend the vulnerable.

The court should use its opportunities in the new session to support weakened populations and reinforce damaged institutions to which our current commander in chief has not paid much attention.

We need the Supreme Court to provide the reason and stable leadership our country otherwise lacks, which leaves Gorsuch with the opportunity to do as he should and provide a check to the current power imbalance.

mareklei@indiana.edu

@foreverfloral97

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