Gorsuch Sworn in to High Court; At Least One Education Case Awaits Him

By Mark Walsh — April 07, 2017 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

[Updated: Monday, April 10, 1:20 p.m.]

Neil M. Gorsuch was sworn in Monday as the 113th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, promising “to be a faithful servant to the Constitution and laws of this great nation.”

Gorsuch, 49, took his constitutional oath from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in a small private ceremony at the court, then the judicial oath from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, for whom he had served as a law clerk, in a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House.

President Donald Trump spoke first, saying, “I’ve always heard that the most important thing that a president of the United States does is appoint people, hopefully great people like this appointment, to the United States Supreme Court, and I can say this is a great honor. And I got it done in the first 100 days. You think that’s easy?”

Gorsuch said, “To the American people, I am humbled by the trust placed in me today. I will never forget that to whom much is given, much will be expected.”

Besides Roberts and Kennedy, all other members of the current court were present at the Rose Garden ceremony, as was Gorsuch family members including his wife, Louise, and daughters, Emma and Belinda. Maureen Scalia, the widow of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, was also present.

The Senate on Friday confirmed Gorsuch to the high court, one day after a bitter battle in which Republicans changed the rules of their chamber to end filibusters for high court nominees.

Gorsuch is joining the court in time to participate in April arguments that include a case with potentially major implications for religion and education. The new justice also could cast potentially deciding votes in education issues expected to come to the court in the near future, including on the rights of public-employee unions and transgender students.

The Senate voted 54 to 45 to approve Gorsuch, who has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, for the last 11 years. He is President Donald Trump’s nominee to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Feb. 13, 2016, and whose seat has been vacant amid the refusal last year by Republicans to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland. (Three Democrats joined 51 Republicans in voting “aye"—Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.)

During his confirmation hearing last month and in floor debate this week, Democrats criticized Gorsuch as having a record that was insensitive to the powerless, including students with disabilities. They attacked him for a 2008 appeals court decision he wrote that went against a student with autism because the boy’s school district had provided a special education that met a standard that was “merely more than de minimis.”

The Supreme Court issued a decision on March 20, during Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, in another special education case that expressly rejected the standard that the nominee had embraced, giving Democrats more fodder against him.

Republicans defended the 2008 decision, saying Gorsuch was following 10th Circuit precedent.

Aside from that battle, and a skirmish over whether Gorsuch fully embraced the result of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision against race segregation in the schools, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., the hearings revealed relatively little about Gorsuch’s views on legal issues in education.

But Gorsuch will soon have an opportunity to express his views in a case being watched closely by educators. In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (Case No. 15-577), the justices will hear the appeal of a Lutheran church and preschool in Missouri that was denied a grant from a state program to use recycled tires to build safer playgrounds.

State officials cited the Missouri constitution’s prohibition against providing any money, “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” Similar language is present in the constitutions of some three dozen states, and if the court decides this case broadly, such as by ruling that these amendments interfere with First Amendment free-exercise-of-religion rights of churches and religious groups, that would have major implications for state private school voucher and other programs.

The court granted review of the Trinity Lutheran case in January 2016, when Scalia was still alive. The court repeatedly put off oral arguments in the case until scheduling it during the last argument session of its term. There is widespread speculation that the eight current justices believe, based on their preliminary discussions when they granted the case, that they are equally divided and were awaiting a ninth member.

Gorsuch is now expected to be on the Supreme Court bench when the court takes up that case on April 19. Soon after the confirmation vote, the Supreme Court announced that Gorsuch would be administered his constitutional oath privately at the court on Monday, and his judicial oath at a White House ceremony later that day. A formal investiture ceremony will be held at the court at a later date.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump watches as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy administers the judicial oath to Judge Neil Gorsuch in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 10. Holding the Bible is Gorsuch’s wife, Marie Louise Gorsuch. Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP