GORSUCH HEARING OPENS WITH FOCUS ON JUDICIARY’S INDEPENDENCE
Clash possible with president, senator warns
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.
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.