He won't be as good as Justice Scalia was, but he won't be as bad as Alito is.
Here are some hints from yesterday's argument in Class as well as the first few arguments (via WSJ):
Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s appointee to the Supreme Court, joined liberal colleagues Wednesday in sharply questioning government arguments that criminal defendants forfeit all rights to appeal after entering a plea bargain.
Since his April appointment, Justice Gorsuch’s remarks and votes nearly always have placed him on the court’s right. This week’s arguments suggested, however, that like his late predecessor, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Gorsuch’s legal philosophy sometimes may lead him to split with fellow conservatives and back procedural protections for criminal defendants.
Wednesday’s case involved Ronald Class, a High Shoals, N.C., retiree who in May 2013 illegally parked his Jeep Wrangler in a U.S. Capitol lot. Police found the vehicle contained several loaded weapons, including a 9mm Ruger pistol, a .44-caliber Taurus pistol and a .44- caliber Henry rifle. Although he had a North Carolina concealed weapons permit, Mr. Class was arrested under a federal law prohibiting guns on the Capitol grounds.
According to the government’s brief, Mr. Class told Federal Bureau of Investigation agents that “he was a ‘Constitutional Bounty Hunter ’ and a ‘Private Attorney General’ who traveled the nation with guns and other weapons to enforce federal criminal law against judges whom he believed had acted unlawfully.”
Mr. Class later reached a plea bargain with prosecutors and was sentenced to 24 days’ imprisonment and a year of supervised release. Although plea bargains typically restrict appeals from defendants, Mr. Class then sought to have his conviction overturned on several grounds, including that he had a Second Amendment right to take his guns to the Capitol.
A federal appeals court dismissed the appeal in an unsigned order, noting that Mr. Class had told the trial judge he understood the plea bargain required him to forgo all but a few technical forms of appeal. But on Wednesday, an attorney for Mr. Class said that Supreme Court precedents established that defendants retained the right to raise constitutional claims even after pleading guilty.
A Justice Department attorney, Eric Feigin, argued that the government was entitled to assume Mr. Class had waived all appeals. “There’s a serious information imbalance here. Only the defendant knows what kinds of claims he might want to bring after a guilty plea and in what respects he doesn’t intend his guilty plea to be final,” he told the court.
Justice Gorsuch appeared incredulous. “Mr. Feigin, is this information asymmetry problem a suggestion that the government lacks sufficient bargaining power in the plea bargaining process?” he asked.
“No, your honor,” Mr. Feigin said.
Federal and state prosecutors win more than 90% of criminal cases without persuading a jury; defendants nearly always agree to plead guilty under threat of harsher punishment should they be convicted after opting for a trial.
Picking up on a question by Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Gorsuch suggested that a defendant who pleads guilty admits the factual allegations in an indictment—but not that those actions necessarily are illegal.
“You’re admitting to what’s in the indictment. Isn’t that maybe the most natural and historically consistent understanding of what a guilty plea is?” Justice Gorsuch said.
Justice Gorsuch’s remarks Wednesday followed similar pro-defendant positions he took Monday. That case involved a Filipino with permanent U.S. residency who had been convicted of burglary and who argued that the criteria Congress adopted authorizing deportation of immigrants for committing violent crimes were unconstitutionally vague.