Gorsuch era on Supreme Court begins with first three cases


WASHINGTON, April 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court, back at full strength after being shorthanded for 14 months, gets down to business on Monday with President Donald Trump's appointee Neil Gorsuch hearing arguments in his first three cases as part of a restored conservative majority.

The cases involve employment and property disputes and the timing of securities class-action lawsuits. None of the three is a blockbuster likely to split the court ideologically. But Gorsuch will be on the bench for one of the court's biggest cases of its current term on Wednesday in a Missouri church's lawsuit that tests the limits of religious rights.

One of the lawyers due to argue the second case before the justices on Monday will be a familiar face to Gorsuch. Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general in Democratic former President Barack Obama's Justice Department, heartily endorsed Gorsuch's nomination, even testifying at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.

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Katyal's role in the confirmation process means Gorsuch may have to decide on whether or not to recuse himself in that case.

Gorsuch formally joined the court on April 10 after being confirmed by the Republican-led Senate over broad Democratic opposition three days earlier, and took part in discussions among the justices on which cases to take up.

The court will have its full complement of nine justices, five conservatives and four liberals, for arguments for the first time since the death of long-serving conservative Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

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Gorsuch, at 49 the youngest new justice in a quarter century, served for a decade on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before Trump nominated him in January. Trump was able to fill Scalia's vacancy only because Senate Republicans last year refused to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama's nominee Merrick Garland.

The first of Monday's three one-hour oral arguments is a employment dispute in which a former U.S. Census Bureau worker argues he was forced into retirement against his will.

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The second involves whether a developer can intervene in a lawsuit brought by a property owner against the town of Chester, New York over its refusal to give him permission to build on his land.

Katyal, who has argued numerous cases before the high court, represents the town of Chester. Republicans backing Gorsuch's confirmation often cited liberal Katyal's endorsement as evidence that the judge enjoyed support across the political spectrum.

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Testifying before the Judiciary Committee, Katyal said, "I have seen Judge Gorsuch in action, hearing cases. And I have studied his written opinions. This is a first rate intellect, and a fair and decent man."

Katyal is also scheduled to argue before the justices on April 25 on behalf of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co in a case over out-of-state injury claims.

The third case on Monday is a dispute over whether certain securities class-action lawsuits can be barred because they were filed too late.

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