By Mark Sherman, Associated Press
A measure of melodic phrasing. A rigorous reading of the law at issue. A nod to the proper role of the courts.
Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first Supreme Court opinion Monday stayed true to what Gorsuch promised in his nomination hearing and to the reputation for good writing he developed as an appellate judge.
Gorsuch was the author of a unanimous decision in favor of a company involved in a debt collection dispute. The court ruled that Santander Consumer USA does not fall under a federal law aimed at unscrupulous debt collectors. The company purchased defaulted car loans and sought to collect the money owed.
“Disruptive dinnertime calls, downright deceit and more besides drew Congress’ eye to the debt collection industry,” Gorsuch began his opinion in a case that was argued less than two months earlier.
But he quickly framed the issue not about whether the company’s practices are prohibited, but instead whether it can be called a “debt collector” that is covered by the law.
“Everyone agrees that the term embraces the repo man — someone hired by a creditor to collect an outstanding debt. But what if you purchase a debt and then try to collect it for yourself — does that make you a ‘debt collector’ too?” Gorsuch wrote.
It does not, he concluded in the balance of his 11-page opinion that included a brief grammar lesson on participles, past and present. Santander does not qualify as a debt collector because it purchased the loans in question and was not trying to collect on someone else’s behalf, Gorsuch wrote.
In the end, he said, Congress can change the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, to cover anyone who tries to collect a debt.
Courts “apply, not amend, the work of the people’s representatives,” Gorsuch wrote.