Jimmy Smits calls himself a liberal, and he’s often seen supporting such causes. On his new show, he’ll play an outspoken conservative Supreme Court justice. Justice Garza leaves the bench to practice law again on NBC’s Outlaw. His first case deals with a death row inmate's last three days, and more hot button issues are coming.

“For me the bottom line is what’s on the page,” Smits told the Television Critics Asociation at their fall press tour. “I think it was an opportunity to deal with legal matters and hot button issues that are substantive in terms of a legal show, but at the same time have a character that is outside the box in a lot of different ways. Since we’re at a point where we’re loggerjammed in terms of the political right or left, the fact that this jurist has made, because of what happens to him in the pilot, has made such a radical switch and then surrounds himself with a team of people, his team that have different types of political viewpoints, it does give us an opportunity to tackle these hot button issues in a new and fresh way.”

Executive producer John Eisendrath takes a little delight in putting Smits in a conservative situation, but Garza is going to grow. “A conservative jurist can’t just make it up,” Eisendrath said. “They believe in original thinking. He had to leave in order to follow his principals. Being a conservative allows him to do something you rarely see on network television, take issues on. He’s more of a libertarian than a conservative. As we go week to week taking on biggest issues of the day, you won’t be able to gauge what his positions is. What his position on gay marriage, freedom of choice, the death penalty will be a surprise every week when you find what his position is. The team he’s participating in will be equally surprised and along for the ride.”

Smits is game to change it up. “I think John’s created a really fascinating character that’s a challenge for an actor,” Smits said. “It’s a wonderful meal for an actor to play and it’s something different than what I’ve done before. In this kind of instance, I’m going to be able as an actor to tackle again stuff that’s very substantive and play a character that’s much more loose and comfortable than I’ve had a chance to play, so it’s a challenge for me to do and one I can’t wait. You haven’t seen me tackle that type of character before. Of course you draw from yourself but the artistic nourishment you want to get is be versatile, do something different and I think I got a chance to do that in a lot of different ways.”

Outlaw is coming this fall to NBC.