DENVER – Colorado’s Neil Gorsuch is now the ninth U.S. Supreme Court justice, and he will immediately be thrown into several high-profile cases in which he could cast the deciding vote.
The Supreme Court has for more than a year operated with just eight justices after Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in February 2016.
First up for Gorsuch and the full-bench court will be a case out of Missouri involving a church’s claim that its religious freedom is being violated by the state’s ban on public money going to religious organizations.
In Church of Columbia v. Pauley, the church argues that the state’s denial of public money to help build a playground violated the U.S. Constitution.
Gorsuch could also be called on to decide six cases argued last year should the other eight justices not be able to come to a majority conclusion. He would be called on to participate in new hearings on the cases and possibly break a 4-4 tie, but cannot issue decisions in any cases that do not end in a tied vote.
Among those cases are one involving a Mexican family suing a U.S. Border Patrol agent who shot their son across the Texas border.
There were two finalized 4-4 votes that resulted from Scalia's death: one that involved public unions, and one that involved the detainment of undocumented immigrants, according to the New York Times.
The AP reports that those cases included one involving the rights of detained immigrants, and others involving discrimination involving housing and redistricting.
And the Supreme Court is set to hold private conferences on April 13 to decide what other cases it might soon hear.
Among the possibilities is the case involving the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, whose owner, Jack Phillips, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case after a lower court ruled that Phillips discriminated against a gay couple who wanted a wedding cake in 2012.
Phillips has long claimed that as a Christian, he has the religious freedom to deny business to same-sex couples.
The Colorado Supreme Court last August declined to review the case, agreeing with a Colorado Court of Appeals decision that said the shop could continue to enforce its religious beliefs, but not while operating as a business in Colorado.
The U.S. Supreme Court could also take up a gun rights case out of San Diego in which the plaintiff argues the Second Amendment allows people to carry guns openly outside of their home, as well as a voter rights case involving voter identification and redistricting out of North Carolina at the April 13 conference. Four justices would have to vote to take up each case for a full court hearing.
Gorsuch, 49, is now the youngest Supreme Court justice, and Republicans hope that he will tip the majority back to conservatives, as was often the case with Scalia on the bench.