On January 31, President Trump announced his nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Judge Gorsuch, 49, graduated from Harvard Law School and clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White and current Justice Anthony Kennedy. Since 2006, Judge Gorsuch has served on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado.
Judge Gorsuch is generally regarded as a conservative pick, but does not have an extensive record of environmental opinions by which to predict his views on current environmental legal issues. However, Judge Gorsuch authored the majority opinion in an immigration case, Guiterrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, 834 F.3d 1142 (10th Cir. 2006), and in a concurrence to that opinion, directly questioned the Chevron Doctrine, a critical concept of federal administrative law. The Chevron Doctrine was announced in a 1984 Supreme Court case involving the oil corporation, Chevron, and deferred interpretation of ambiguous federal statutes to the agencies charged with enforcing or implementing those statutes. Chevron affords federal agencies significant power to interpret these statutes without “second-guessing” by the courts. Judge Gorsuch, however, believes that judges should interpret laws, not bureaucrats. The Chevron doctrine has been a key factor in the outcome of many environmental cases. Thus, while not specific to environmental law, Judge Gorsuch’s perspective on the Chevron doctrine could affect how the Court reviews challenges to environmental regulations.
We expect that more information on Judge Gorsuch’s environmental perspectives will come out during the confirmation process. If you have questions about the impacts of Judge Gorsuch’s nomination on environmental law, please contact Peter Glaser, Andrea Wortzel or Andy Flavin.