Mark Joseph Stern writes: Following his nomination to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch was packaged by his wealthy benefactors as the judicial equivalent of a carrot cake: mild and wholesome with the occasional hint of spice. Now that the justice has been safely installed on the court for life, he has revealed himself to be more akin to melted sorbet: sickly sweet and insubstantial with a tangy finish that induces slight nausea. Gorsuch’s abrupt pivot to arrogance has been on full display in his bumptious opinions and questions from the bench. But it also appears to be infecting his interactions with justices behind the scenes. Whispers emerging from the court indicate Gorsuch is more likely to alienate than influence even his conservative colleagues.
The latest sign of trouble comes from NPR’s Nina Totenberg, who dropped in on the indispensable Supreme Court podcast First Mondays to dish some gossip about the newest justice. Totenberg, a renowned court reporter who is friendly with several justices, noted that Gorsuch “ticks off some members of the court—and I don’t think it’s just the liberals.” Without exposing her sources—“you talk to former law clerks, you talk to friends, you talk to some of the justices”—Totenberg then dropped a bombshell:
My surmise, from what I’m hearing, is that Justice [Elena] Kagan really has taken [Gorsuch] on in conference. And that it’s a pretty tough battle and it’s going to get tougher. And she is about as tough as they come, and I am not sure he’s as tough—or dare I say it, maybe not as smart. I always thought he was very smart, but he has a tin ear somehow, and he doesn’t seem to bring anything new to the conversation.
Why is Totenberg’s reporting here so extraordinary? Because it’s astonishing that any reporter would hear details from conference, let alone score some genuinely juicy scuttlebutt. Conference is famously sacrosanct: It’s where the justices gather to cast their votes in the cases of the week, with each explaining his or her reasoning in order of seniority. Nobody else is allowed to attend. If rumors leak about a justice’s behavior in conference—and they basically never do—it is almost certainly a justice who leaked them. And when justices leak—which again, happens very rarely—they do so on purpose. The fact that we know about the “battle” in conference between Gorsuch and Kagan suggests that someone on the court wants us to know. [Continue reading…]