- The Washington Times
Sunday, September 8, 2019

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, like any other good angler, isn’t about to talk about his best fishing spots. But he is willing to dish on his favorite fly.

The Copper John is what gets them snapping in Colorado, he tells reporters before revealing one of his prized possessions: a fly the Copper John creator tied just for him, dubbed the Copper Neil, kept in his chambers at the Supreme Court at 1 First St. in Washington, far from his fishing grounds.


The Colorado native became the first justice in nearly a decade to come from a flyover state, breaking the hold the coasts have had on the institution when he ascended from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Denver, to the high court in 2017 as President Trump’s first pick, succeeding the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

As he writes in his new book, “A Republic, If You Can Keep It,” he inherited more than Scalia’s seat. He also got the late justice’s massive elk head, bagged on a hunting trip and for years displayed in his office.

Justice Gorsuch says in his book that the head, known as Leroy, is so massive that the court must have been looking for a gracious exit for the thing, when someone settled on the idea of gifting it to the new justice. Justice Gorsuch couldn’t be happier because he and Leroy have much in common.

“We are both native Coloradans. Neither of us will ever forget Justice Scalia. And we’ve both been crated and jumbled across the country to serve out our remaining time on display at the Supreme Court of the United States,” he said in a lecture about his experience joining the high court — one of the compiled speeches and writings that make up his book.

Justice Gorsuch said he and Scalia never went hunting, but they did fish together once.

They also gained some insights, realizing that they may approach the law and judge similarly — the reason Mr. Trump selected the Coloradan — but they had a different way of fishing.

“Where I would suggest, say, gently unfurling a line in the direction of a rising trout, Justice Scalia preferred another approach: lashing the stream with the enthusiasm of a son of Queens. When I pointed to a spot likely to harbor trout, instead of stalking slowly in that direction he would storm over in his waders, look around, and then exclaim, ‘But you said there would be fish here!’ As indeed there had been.”

Justice Gorsuch shies away from suggesting that being from the Mountain West means he decides cases differently, but he does suggest it offers a judge a different perspective.

“I don’t have to explain to my colleagues on the 10th Circuit when I’m telling an anecdote what a prairie dog is,” he said.

He also made history by hiring the first American Indian Supreme Court clerk for the 2018 term, according to Bloomberg News.

The justice has won praise for his fluid writing on the high court, though he has kept observers guessing to some extent with his rulings, siding with the court’s four Democrat-appointed members in cases finding a series of criminal and immigration laws too vague to stand.

It was Justice Gorsuch, though, who found himself surprised by one of the court’s more playful moments in the last term when Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who sits next to him on the dais during oral arguments, was discussing the finer points of levels of force.

To illustrate her point, she reached over and pinched Justice Gorsuch, setting the courtroom atwitter. Reporters in their stories debated whether Justice Gorsuch was bemused or amused.

He waves away the speculation, saying he doesn’t read that sort of coverage. He also wouldn’t reveal whether he has any retaliation planned when the court convenes early next month for its next session. But he said he would welcome another from his seatmate.

“I adore Sonia Sotomayor, and if she wants to pinch me, that’s just great,” he said.


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