(City Journal) -- Neil Gorsuch has spent only a fraction of a term as a Supreme Court justice, but few justices have had a more promising start. He has shown himself a careful textualist in reading statutes, a serious originalist in interpreting the Constitution, and an adherent of judicial restraint—and he has done all this with an engaging style that will allow him to reach over the heads of Court watchers and critics to the people. He seems an ideal schoolmaster for the American republic—a jurist whose every opinion is a lucid primer on the civics of our governance.
His first majority opinion in Henson v. Santander Consumer USA was a superb exercise in meticulous analysis of statutory text. The question at hand was whether a law designed to regulate debt collectors applied to a bank that had a bought a debt and tried to collect on it. By its terms, the statute covers those “who regularly collect debts . . . owed or due . . . another.” The bank argued that it was collecting the debt of its own, not of another, since it had purchased the debt. The debtor seized on the past tense of the term “owed” and contended that the debt was another’s because it had been previously “owed” to the party from which the bank bought it. Gorsuch showed the debtor’s argument did not follow from ordinary language because the past tense is often used to describe the present state of a thing, as when one refers to “burnt toast or a fallen branch.”