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Highlights From Gorsuch's Private Practice Years

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 07, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Neil Gorsuch could be our next Supreme Court justice. Gorsuch, who was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Trump last week, currently sits on the Tenth Circuit, where he's been for the past ten years. But before Gorsuch became a federal judge, he spent almost ten years in private practice, as an associate and then partner at Kellogg Huber.

What was Gorsuch like as an attorney? Skilled, practical, reliable, according to his colleagues, who Bloomberg's BigLaw Business recently spoke to. Here are some of the highlights.

"Not Just an Ivory Tower, Lofty Intellectual"

Bloomberg's review of Gorsuch's law firm years starts with this amusing anecdote:

In private practice, Neil Gorsuch once spent eight hours deposing a representative of an accounting firm who answered all Gorsuch's questions with "I don't know," even though the witness -- as a designated representative of the company -- was supposed to know, recalled one of his colleagues.

Gorsuch then turned those "I don't knows" against the company, winning a ruling that barred the company from presenting most of its arguments. The story was recounted to Bloomberg's Rebecca Beyer by Mark C. Hansen, Gorsuch's old colleague and a named partner at Kellogg Huber (Hansen, Todd, Evans, & Figel).

At Kellogg Huber, where Gorsuch made partner in just two years and where he spent almost his entire career outside the judiciary, the Supreme Court nominee was known as a "skilled attorney" who "loved the practice of law." Gorsuch, Hansen says, was "very practical, not just an ivory tower, lofty intellectual," someone skilled at dealing with both clients and adversaries.

From Private Practice to (Maybe) the Supreme Court

Gorsuch's practice covered a wide range of issues, from breach of contract to antitrust. Highlights include a $1 billion Sherman Act case between two tobacco companies (he won) and a gravel pit owner's suit against a construction company (he won).

From Kellogg Huber, Gorsuch went on to serve briefly in the Department of Justice, as principal deputy to the associate attorney general. After a year he was nominated to the Tenth Circuit by George W. Bush. That nomination went smoothly. Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate in a unanimous voice vote.

Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination won't be so easy. Democrats have vowed to fight his nomination, both out of objection to his conservative judicial philosophy and outrage that Republicans refused the advance the nomination of Merrick Garland.

Much of that battle will focus on Gorsuch's writings as a judge and a scholar. His opinions on everything from assisted suicide to administrative law have drawn scrutiny. But some of Garland's work in private practice could come up as well. At Kellogg Huber, for example, Garland wrote a brief condemning shareholder class actions, criticizing such suits as a "free ride to fast riches enjoyed by securities class action attorneys." That's not exactly a radical position to take, but it could see Gorsuch criticized for prioritizing the needs of companies over the interests of consumers.

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