Former President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court within weeks of taking office in 2017.

It was a triumphant moment for Trump and for his supporters, many of whom voted for him due to an interest in shifting the ideological balance of the court.

Over the past seven years, Gorsuch has helped deliver a number of big wins for the conservative movement. He was part of the majority in recent decisions overturning Roe v. Wade, expanding access to guns and overturning affirmative action.

But Gorsuch has also broken with the conservative pack somewhat regularly, often alongside Chief Justice John Roberts.

He’s written or joined opinions protecting gay and transgender workers, protecting Native American tribal sovereignty and protecting a prisoner from additional jail time.

Becerra v. San Carlos Apache Tribe

On Thursday, he and Roberts sided with the court’s three more liberal justices in Becerra v. San Carlos Apache Tribe, which will enable Native American tribes to access more health care resources without giving up control over their health care programs.

Trump’s other two Supreme Court appointees, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, were part of the conservative dissent.

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Thursday’s ruling — and Gorsuch’s overall body of work — is a reminder that the Supreme Court is full of surprises, even when one ideological camp has a 6-3 majority.

It’s also a reminder of Gorsuch’s interesting position on the court — and interesting place within Trump’s list of political achievements.

Gorsuch has faced intense pushback from conservatives at various points in his Supreme Court tenure, especially when he ruled that prohibitions on sex discrimination protect gay and transgender workers.

Some have openly questioned whether Trump made the wrong pick in 2017.

“All those evangelicals who sided with Trump in 2016 to protect them from the cultural currents, just found their excuse to stay home in 2020 thank to Trump’s Supreme Court picks,” Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host and blogger, wrote after the ruling on LGBTQ rights, per The Hill.

Neil Gorsuch’s legal reputation

Legal experts have noted that Gorsuch’s willingness to be a wild card was well established before 2017.

“He just doesn’t care at all about what anyone else — his colleagues, the press, politicians — thinks,” said Daniel Epps, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, to The New York Times last year.

In 2019, the Los Angeles Times described him as “a libertarian who is quick to oppose unchecked government power.”


On tribal issues, in particular, Gorsuch has long stood out from other conservative judges.

“He’s from Colorado,” said John E. Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, to The New York Times. “He knows these issues. He knows these tribes.”

Gorsuch was born and raised in Colorado, but attended college and law school on the East Coast. He also spent much of his early law career in the East, before being appointed by President George W. Bush to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, where he served for a decade, according to a bio shared by the White House at the time of his nomination to the Supreme Court.

At 56, Gorsuch likely still has many years left on the court to keep delivering surprises.

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