GOR­SUCH HEAR­ING OPENS WITH FO­CUS ON JU­DI­CIARY’S IN­DE­PEN­DENCE

Clash pos­si­ble with pres­i­dent, se­na­tor warns

Chicago Sun-Times - - NATION - Erin Kelly @ErinVKelly USA TO­DAY Con­tribut­ing: Kevin John­son

Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal told Supreme Court nom­i­nee Neil Gor­such on Mon­day that, if con­firmed, the judge may soon be faced with hav­ing to en­force a sub­poena against Pres­i­dent Trump amid rev­e­la­tions by FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey that his agency is in­ves­ti­gat­ing ties be­tween Trump’s as­so­ciates and Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“We meet this week in the midst of a loom­ing con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis ... ” the Con­necti­cut Demo­crat told the ap­peals court judge dur­ing the first day of con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings by the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. “The pos­si­bil­ity of the Supreme Court need­ing to en­force a sub­poena against the pres­i­dent is no longer idle spec­u­la­tion. ... So the in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­ciary is more im­por­tant than ever, and your de­fense of it is crit­i­cal.”

Blu­men­thal’s com­ments were the most ex­plo­sive dur­ing the first of four days of con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings for Gor­such, who was gen­er­ally lauded Mon­day by Repub­li­cans as a highly re­spected, in­de­pen­dent- minded judge with wide­spread sup­port and im­pec­ca­ble cre­den­tials and de­nounced by Democrats as an ex­trem­ist who has op­posed work­ers’ rights, abor­tion rights, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and gun con­trol.

“No mat­ter your pol­i­tics ... you should be con­cerned about the preser­va­tion of our con­sti­tu­tional or­der and the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers,” said Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Chuck Grass­ley, R- Iowa. “For­tu­nately for every Amer­i­can, we have be­fore us to­day a nom­i­nee whose body of work is de­fined by an un­fail­ing com­mit­ment to these prin­ci­ples. His grasp on the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers — in­clud­ing ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence — en­livens his body of work.”

But Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia, the com­mit­tee’s se­nior Demo­crat, said Gor­such’s writ­ings sug­gest that he would seek to over­turn the Supreme Court’s land­mark Roe v. Wade de­ci­sion, which made abor­tion le­gal na­tion­wide in 1973. She said she also was con­cerned about two opin­ions he wrote that would make it eas­ier for con­victed felons to ob­tain firearms.

“Who sits on the Supreme Court should not sim­ply eval­u­ate le­gal­is­tic the­o­ries and Latin phrases in iso­la­tion,” Fe­in­stein said. “They must un­der­stand the court’s de­ci­sions have real world con­se­quences for men, women and chil­dren across our na­tion.”

After lis­ten­ing to four hours of com­ments from sen­a­tors, Gor­such fi­nally got a chance to speak, of­fer­ing an emo­tional trib­ute to the in­de­pen­dent spirit of the Amer­i­can West where he grew up and to the fam­ily mem­bers and men­tors who helped shape his life and ca­reer. It was the first time that most Amer­i­cans had heard from Gor­such— a judge for the 10th U. S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in Den­ver — since he was in­tro­duced to the pub­lic by Trump at the end of Jan­uary to re­place the late con­ser­va­tive Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia.

Gor­such said he has agreed with the ma­jor­ity opin­ion 99% of the time on the ap­peals court, be­ly­ing crit­i­cism that he is some­how out of the main­stream. He also con­tra­dicted his crit­ics’ por­trayal of him as hos­tile to “the lit­tle guy” by point­ing out that he has de­cided in fa­vor of In­dian tribes, peo­ple fight­ing cor­po­rate pol­luters, and un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in cer­tain cases.

“Over the last decade, I’ve par­tic­i­pated in more than 2,700 ap­peals,” Gor­such said. “In the West, we lis­ten to one an­other, re­spec­tively. We tol­er­ate, we cher­ish, dif­fer­ent points of view. And we seek con­sen­sus when­ever we can. ... That’s my record.”

The com­mit­tee, whose mem­bers in-cclude lib­eral Sen. Pa­trick Leahy, D- Vt., and con­ser­va­tive Sen. Ted Cruz, R- Texas, is slated to vote on April 3 on whether to rec­om­mend that Gor­such be con­firmed by the full Se­nate.

It will take 60 votes on the Se­nate floor to ad­vance Gor­such’s nom­i­na­tion, meaning that he must at­tract the sup­port of at least eight Democrats since Repub­li­cans hold only 52 seats. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, RKy., has ex­pressed con­fi­dence that Gor­such can get 60 votes. If that doesn’t hap­pen, McCon­nell has the “nu­clear op­tion” to change Se­nate rules to con­firm with a sim­ple ma­jor­ity of 51 votes.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R- S. C., said sen­a­tors should sup­port a qual­i­fied nom­i­nee such as Gor­such, even if they don’t agree with his po­lit­i­cal lean­ings. Gra­ham voted to help con­firm two of for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s nom­i­nees — Elena Ka­gan and So­nia So­tomayor. “I just want you to know that, from my point of view, you’re every bit as qual­i­fied as Jus­tices So­tomayor and Ka­gan,” Gra­ham told Gor­such.

Leahy and other Demo­cratic sen­a­tors said they fear Gor­such’s “orig­i­nal­ist” ju­di­cial phi­los­o­phy — in­ter­pret­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion the way that the Found­ing Fathers in­tended. Democrats ar­gued that the Con­sti­tu­tion should be in­ter­preted as an evolv­ing doc­u­ment that has moved beyond the time in Amer­ica’s early his­tory when slav­ery was le­gal and women had few rights.

“I worry that this is not just a phi­los­o­phy; it is an agenda,” Leahy said.

JAR­RAD HEN­DER­SON, USA TO­DAY

Ap­peals court Judge Neil Gor­such tes­ti­fiesMon­day be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee as his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing be­gan to fill the late An­tonin Scalia’s seat. The com­mit­tee is set to vote April 3 on Gor­such’s nom­i­na­tion.

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