Conservatives are hoping Judge Neil Gorsuch will have a say in how the Supreme Court decides cases set to be argued before the high court later this month.
Gorsuch's path to the Supreme Court was cleared Thursday when Senate Republicans killed the filibuster of high court nominations. The full Senate is expected to vote on Gorsuch's nomination by Friday evening, which could clear the way for Gorsuch to join the bench before it next hears arguments on April 17.
As part of his failed effort to delay Senate Republicans' decision to kill the filibuster, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for a procedural vote on delaying a vote on Gorsuch's nomination until April 24. Schumer's unsuccessful delaying tactic may have been aimed at buying liberals more time to organize opposition, but it also provides insight into which upcoming cases most concern Democrats and their constituents.
The high court is set to hear seven cases before April 24. Included among those is Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, a case in which the justices will decide if Missouri officials violated the Constitution in the state's decision to exclude a church from a state program that provides nonprofits with funding to resurface their playgrounds using recycled tires.
The contentious religious liberty debate in Trinity Lutheran could evenly split the eight-justice court. Gorsuch's addition to the court has the potential to tilt the case toward the high court's conservative bloc.
South Texas College of Law professor Josh Blackman told the Washington Examiner Gorsuch "will almost certainly cast the fifth vote" deciding the Trinity Lutheran case.
Blackman also noted that Gorsuch's presence likely will be felt immediately in litigation regarding President Trump's travel ban that looks to be headed the high court's way this summer.
But conservatives want Gorsuch to not simply re-establish the old order of four right-leaning justices, four left-leaning justices and Justice Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote. Instead, conservatives yearn to see Gorsuch, a former Kennedy clerk, lure Kennedy in the direction of the court's conservatives.
"On paper, Judge Gorsuch, a conservative, replaces Justice Scalia, another conservative," Blackman said in an email. "But in reality, Justice Scalia was quite abrasive and pushed away the court's moderates like Justice Kennedy. Judge Gorsuch, a former Kennedy clerk, may be able to bring the court in his direction."
Gorsuch's presence on the bench also could be immediately felt in terms of the cases it chooses to hear or reject. With Gorsuch on the bench, right-leaning lawyers and Republican attorneys general could look to bring a series of cases that they may have been holding their fire on. At their winter meetings this year, the attorneys general told the Washington Examiner they were interested in moving ahead on issues regarding environmental regulations, fighting labor rules, and pursuing new action on immigration with Trump in the White House.