Hear­ing be­gins for jus­tice pick

Gor­such as­serts im­par­tial­ity

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Mark Sher­man, Erica Werner and Mary Clare Jalonick of The As­so­ci­ated Press and by Ed O’Keefe, Robert Barnes and Sean Sul­li­van of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

WASH­ING­TON — Supreme Court nom­i­nee Neil Gor­such pledged to be in­de­pen­dent or “hang up the robe” as the U.S. Se­nate be­gan hear­ings Mon­day on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s con­ser­va­tive pick to fill a Supreme Court seat that has been va­cant for more than a year.

Gor­such, in a 13-minute in­tro­duc­tory ad­dress, sought to take the edge off Demo­cratic com­plaints that he has fa­vored the wealthy and pow­er­ful in more than 10 years as a fed­eral judge.

The 49-year-old Coloradan told the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee that he has ruled for prison­ers, dis­abled stu­dents, il­le­gal mi­grants, the rich and the poor, “and against such per­sons, too.”

“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,” he said.

Ques­tion­ing is to be­gin to­day. Com­mit­tee Chair­man Charles Grass­ley, R-Iowa, said he ex­pects a com­mit­tee vote on Gor­such’s nom­i­na­tion to be held April 3, which would al­low the full Se­nate to take up the nom­i­na­tion that week. This week’s pro­ceed­ings are ex­pected to con­clude Thurs­day with a panel of wit­nesses speak­ing for or against Gor­such.

Mon­day’s Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing — the first since 2010 — oc­curred while the House heard tes­ti­mony from FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey that the bureau is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sian med­dling in last year’s elec­tion and pos­si­ble links and co­or­di­na­tion be­tween Rus­sia and as­so­ciates of Trump.

Blend­ing the two hear­ings, Demo­cratic Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal of Con­necti­cut re­ferred to “a loom­ing

con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis” that the Supreme Court might need to re­solve. The court’s eight cur­rent jus­tices are roughly di­vided ide­o­log­i­cally be­tween con­ser­va­tives and lib­er­als.

The Rus­sian story line as well as Trump’s crit­i­cism of fed­eral judges both dur­ing the cam­paign and as pres­i­dent have fed into Demo­cratic ef­forts to force Gor­such to break pub­licly with the man who nom­i­nated him. Gor­such al­ready has told some sen­a­tors in pri­vate meet­ings that he found the crit­i­cism of the judges dis­heart­en­ing. But Blu­men­thal said the nom­i­nee needs to make a state­ment “pub­licly and ex­plic­itly and di­rectly.”

For their part, Repub­li­cans uni­formly por­trayed Gor­such as a ge­nial, prin­ci­pled judge whose qual­i­fi­ca­tions make him em­i­nently suit­able for the na­tion’s high­est court. “I’m look­ing for a judge, not an ide­o­logue,” Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said.

Repub­li­cans cheered Gor­such on Mon­day, ac­knowl­edg­ing the strong Demo­cratic crit­i­cism to come but adding that the nom­i­na­tion came with broad pub­lic sup­port.

“This will be more of an or­deal than for your last ap­point­ment,” Sen. Or­rin Hatch, R-Utah, coun­seled Gor­such as he read his open­ing state­ment.

Democrats, un­der in­tense pres­sure from lib­eral-base vot­ers who op­pose the Trump pres­i­dency, en­tered the hear­ing di­vided over how hard to fight Gor­such’s nom­i­na­tion given that the ju­rist has not dis­played hard-line lean­ings and is widely ex­pected to win con­fir­ma­tion in the end, one way or an­other.

Even while in­sist­ing that they would eval­u­ate Gor­such fairly, sev­eral spoke an­grily about the treat­ment of Judge Mer­rick Gar­land, for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nom­i­nee, who was de­nied even a hear­ing last year by Se­nate Repub­li­cans. The Democrats also took shots at Trump him­self, and they crit­i­cized the fact that Gor­such ap­peared on a list of po­ten­tial Supreme Court nom­i­nees vet­ted by the Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety and the Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

“Se­nate Repub­li­cans made a big show last year about re­spect­ing the voice of the Amer­i­can peo­ple in this process,” said Sen. Pa­trick Leahy, D-Vt. “Now they are ar­gu­ing that the Se­nate should rub­ber stamp a nom­i­nee se­lected by ex­treme in­ter­est groups and nom­i­nated by a pres­i­dent who lost the pop­u­lar vote by nearly 3 mil­lion votes.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., re­peated a com­ment by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus last month that Gor­such “rep­re­sents the type of judge that has the vi­sion of Don­ald Trump.”

“I want to hear from you why Mr. Priebus would say that,” Durbin said to Gor­such. “Most Amer­i­cans ques­tion whether we need a Supreme Court jus­tice with the vi­sion of Don­ald Trump.”

Repub­li­can sen­a­tors dis­puted the Demo­cratic crit­i­cism.

“If you be­lieve this has been a great plan to get a Trump nom­i­nee on the court, you had to be­lieve Trump was go­ing to win to be­gin with. I didn’t be­lieve it,” said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C. “I’m try­ing to hear some­one over there tell me why he’s not qual­i­fied,” Gra­ham said of Gor­such.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, sug­gested that Gor­such dis­re­gard Democrats’ at­tempts to draw him out on in­di­vid­ual top­ics.

“You’re not a politi­cian run­ning for elec­tion, judge, as you know,” Cornyn said. “I would en­cour­age my col­leagues to care­fully con­sider the nom­i­nee on the mer­its and noth­ing else.”

With his wife, Louise, sit­ting just be­hind him, and dozens of rel­a­tives, friends and as­so­ciates nearby, Gor­such made re­peated ref­er­ences to ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence and hu­mil­ity.

“These days, we some­times hear judges cyn­i­cally de­scribed as politi­cians in robes, seek­ing to en­force their own pol­i­tics rather than striv­ing to ap­ply the law im­par­tially. If I thought that were true, I’d hang up the robe. But I just don’t think that’s what a life in the law is about,” Gor­such said.

He made a brief ref­er­ence to his mother, Anne Gor­such Bur­ford, who had a con­tentious run as ad­min­is­tra­tor of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency early in Ronald Rea­gan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“She taught me that head­lines are fleet­ing; courage lasts,” Gor­such said.

Democrats sig­naled Mon­day that they will ques­tion Gor­such on sev­eral fronts.

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., told the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee that she would ask Gor­such to clar­ify his be­liefs on abor­tion rights and gun rights — two is­sues on which he’s never ruled, but is­sues that he has men­tioned in pass­ing in other le­gal opin­ions, she said.

She said she takes is­sue with Gor­such’s orig­i­nal­ist views on the Con­sti­tu­tion be­cause “if we were to dog­mat­i­cally ad­here to orig­i­nal­ist in­ter­pre­ta­tions, then we would still have seg­re­gated schools and bans on in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage. Women wouldn’t be en­ti­tled to equal pro­tec­tion un­der the law, and gov­ern­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion against [gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der] Amer­i­cans would be per­mit­ted.”

Durbin and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said they would push Gor­such to clar­ify his views on re­li­gious free­doms and work. Blu­men­thal said he planned to draw out the nom­i­nee on Trump’s “vi­cious” at­tacks on fed­eral judges.

Sev­eral of the more lib­eral Se­nate Democrats have al­ready an­nounced plans to op­pose Gor­such and seek to block his nom­i­na­tion from com­ing to a fi­nal vote. But Repub­li­cans could re­spond to a Demo­cratic de­lay by elim­i­nat­ing the 60-vote fil­i­buster thresh­old now in place for Supreme Court nom­i­na­tions, and with it any Demo­cratic lever­age to in­flu­ence the next Supreme Court fight.

Repub­li­cans con­trol the Se­nate 52-48. The fil­i­buster rule, when in­voked, re­quires 60 of the 100 votes to ad­vance a bill or nom­i­na­tion, con­trasted with the sim­ple 51-vote ma­jor­ity that ap­plies in most cases.

AP/PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS

Supreme Court nom­i­nee Neil Gor­such ar­rives Mon­day on Capi­tol Hill for his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

AP/ALEX WONG

Sen. Charles Grass­ley (back to cam­era), chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, leads Supreme Court nom­i­nee Neil Gor­such in tak­ing an oath Mon­day be­fore Gor­such ad­dressed law­mak­ers at his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing.

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