The BNA reports here that if he is confirmed to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch would lose his position as Chair of the federal Advisory Committee on Appellate Rules, a role he has occupied since last October. This is only a minor administrative inconvenience for the federal court system; Chief Justice Roberts no doubt has already considered how to replace Judge Gorsuch on that committee. But the article does provide an important reminder about the considerable experience Judge Gorsuch brings to judicial administration, and lets us consider why such experience matters.
According to the questionnaire he submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Gorsuch has served extensively on court committees since joining the Tenth Circuit in 2006. Key positions include being a member of the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure (the committee that oversees all proposals for procedural and evidentiary rules changes) from 2010 to 2016, a member of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules (pilot projects subcommittee) from 2015 to 2016, and the Tenth Circuit Judicial Council twice, from 2008 to 2010 and again from 2013 to 2015.
This type of committee work is often highly detailed, time-consuming, and driven by consensus. A thoughtful, respectful, and open mind is an absolute prerequisite. It also fosters an appreciation for other areas of judicial practice in which the committee member is not directly engaged. Judge Gorusch’s work on the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, for example, led to recommendations to pursue pilot projects related to enhanced initial disclosures and expedited litigation. In formulating those recommendation, the pilot projects subcommittee examined the practices in a large number of state courts nationwide. By mere virtue of his committee membership, Judge Gorsuch (presumably) gained a significant amount of knowledge about how civil litigation works both at the trial level and the state level, two areas to which he would not be exposed strictly from his Tenth Circuit position.
Gorsuch is not the first nominee with considerable administrative expertise, and that is a very good thing. Like any other branch of government (or any organization, public or private), smooth periods of transition as well as long-term innovation are helped by background experience. Judge Gorsuch’s administrative experience should be a benefit to the federal court system as it continues to modernize for a 21st-century polity.