WASHINGTON — For the first time in more than a year, nine justices heard arguments at the Supreme Court on Monday. The new member of the court, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, sat on the far right side of the bench, in the spot reserved for the most junior justice.
If Justice Gorsuch experienced first-day jitters, he did not betray them. He was an exceptionally active questioner, displaying an easy familiarity with the issues in the minor and technical cases before the court. He asked crisp and colloquial questions, and he kept asking them if he did not find the lawyers’ answers satisfactory.
There was no acknowledgment inside the courtroom of the bitter fight that led up to the seating of the new justice. But his presence was noted by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. at the start of the day.
“Before we commence the business of the court this morning, it gives me great pleasure on behalf of myself and my colleagues to welcome Justice Gorsuch as the 101st associate justice of this court,” Chief Justice Roberts said. “Justice Gorsuch, we wish you a long and happy career in our common calling.”
Justice Gorsuch responded cordially. “Thank you to each of my new colleagues for the very warm welcome I received this last week,” he said. “I appreciate it very much.”
About 10 minutes into the first argument, Justice Gorsuch asked a half-dozen questions in a row. The case, about where Civil Service and discrimination claims may be filed, was “unbelievably complicated,” as Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. noted.
“Who wrote this statute?” Justice Alito asked. “Someone who takes pleasure in pulling wings off of flies?”
But Justice Gorsuch approached the case with relish, and he made what is likely to become one of his signature points, that the court’s job is limited to reading the words of the statute under review.
“Looking at the plain words of the statute,” he told a lawyer, Christopher Landau. “Just help me with that.”
Justice Gorsuch grew a little self-conscious as he kept pressing. “I’m sorry for taking up so much time,” he said. “I apologize.”
Later, when Mr. Landau started reading the statutory text, Justice Gorsuch said, “Keep going. Keep going.”
Mr. Landau said his client was “not asking the court to break any new ground” by interpreting the statute to allow some filings.
Justice Gorsuch agreed, in a way. “No,” he said, “just to continue to make things up.”
Toward the end of the first argument, Justice Gorsuch returned to his basic theme. “Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we just followed the plain text of the statute?” he asked. “What am I missing?”
In the day’s second argument, on standards for standing, he praised one lawyer and gently chided another.
After Sarah E. Harrington, a lawyer for the federal government, acknowledged the strength of her adversary’s position on one point, Justice Gorsuch said, “I appreciate the candor of that concession.”
But Justice Gorsuch pressed another lawyer, Shay Dvoretzky, for a more precise response to his question. “I’m sorry for interrupting, counsel,” Justice Gorsuch said. “If you’d just answer my question, I’d be grateful.”
Mr. Dvoretzky’s next attempt did not seem to satisfy Justice Gorsuch, either.
“I’ll let you go,” the justice said, giving up.