Gorsuch enjoys bipartisan praise at confirmation hearing
Supreme Court | Despite warm words, Democrats criticize nominee’s ‘originalist judicial philosophy’
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 3/20/17, 05:30 pm
WASHINGTON—Judge Neil M. Gorsuch pledged to be “a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws” on Monday as the Senate Judiciary Committee kicked off its confirmation hearing to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It is for this body, the people’s representatives, to make new laws,” Gorsuch said. “If judges were just secret legislators, declaring not what the law is but what they would like it to be, the very idea of a government by the people and for the people would be at risk.”
Gorsuch, who seemed at ease throughout the hearing, expressed gratitude to a range of family, friends, and legal heroes, while also defending his record against accusations of unfairness.
“In my decade on the bench, I have tried to treat all who come to court fairly and with respect,” he said. “But my decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me—only my best judgment about the law and facts at issue in each particular case.”
The hearing came seven weeks after President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch, 49, to fill the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. Trump turned the court vacancy into a key campaign promise to replace Scalia with a like-minded, conservative justice.
Monday’s proceedings marked Gorsuch’s second appearance before the committee, which considered his nomination to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006. The Senate later voted unanimously to confirm him—a fact Republicans cited frequently.
Dozens of reporters and a crowd of public observers—some dressed in bright red “Stop Gorsuch” shirts—filled the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room as the proceedings began. Gorsuch shared a laugh with photographers as he took his seat amid hundreds of camera clicks.
The Supreme Court nominee spent most of the day listening as members of both parties delivered their opening statements. Monday’s session ended after Gorsuch gave his opening remarks and will resume Tuesday morning with member questioning. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee chairman, said he hopes to finish the hearing Wednesday night.
The panel’s partisan divide became quickly apparent. Grassley invoked Scalia’s name and paid tribute to his judicial philosophy, particularly as a check on executive overreach.
“The preservation of our constitutional order—including the separation of powers—is just as crucial to our liberty today as it was when our founding charter was adopted,” Grassley said. “Fortunately for every American, we have before us today a nominee whose body of professional work is defined by an unfailing commitment to these principles.”
Democrats used their opening remarks to focus on the merits of Judge Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, and blasted the “unprecedented” Republican decision not to bring up his nomination for a vote last year.
Democrats also criticized several specific Gorsuch opinions, saying they show a lack of empathy. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the committee’s ranking member, took aim at his record of interpreting laws as they are written and said the Constitution should be a living document.
“I find this originalist judicial philosophy to be very troubling,” she said. “It severely limits the genius of our Constitution.”
Despite the criticism, Gorsuch, a native of Colorado, received a bipartisan introduction from his two home-state senators—in keeping with long-standing Senate tradition. Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, commended Gorsuch as a fair-minded jurist and noted the importance of putting someone from the American West on the high court.
“Judge Gorsuch exemplifies the best of Colorado,” said Bennet, who said he remains undecided on how he will vote. “I’m here because I believe the Senate has a constitutional duty to give a fair hearing.”
Gorsuch also received praise from Democrat Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, who introduced Gorsuch as “one of the most qualified nominees ever to be nominated to the Supreme Court.” He said if it weren’t for the “tragedy” of Republicans blocking Garland, Gorsuch might have been unanimously confirmed.
Carrie Severino, chief counsel for Judicial Crisis Network—a conservative organization that has spent $4.4 million of a $10 million ad campaign to support Gorsuch’s nomination—called the introductions the highlight of the day.
“That shows the broad, bipartisan support among people who are willing to be open-minded enough to give Gorsuch a chance,” Severino told me, citing Katyal’s work on the state of Hawaii’s current lawsuit against the Trump administration’s revised immigration executive order. “It’s going to be really hard to lay the ground for gridlock … if the rest of the hearing continues as it did today.”
Liberal activists are pressuring Senate Democrats to block the Gorsuch nomination, but 10 Democrats face the pressure of running for reelection next year in states Trump won. Gorsuch has stirred little controversy in meetings with more than 70 senators over the last seven weeks.
On Monday, Republicans repeatedly cited the American Bar Association’s unanimous pronouncement on March 9 that Gorsuch is “well-qualified” to join the nation’s highest court.
Republicans hold a 52-48 advantage in the U.S. Senate, but they will need eight Democrats to vote to end debate and bring the nomination to the floor. Grassley said the committee will vote on Gorsuch on April 3, with the full Senate expected to vote a few days later.