What we learned at the hear­ings

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Mark Sher­man

wash­ing­ton» Nom­i­nees ap­pear­ing be­fore the Se­nate all have one goal in mind: Win con­fir­ma­tion. And when one party con­trols the Se­nate and the White House, the strat­egy of say­ing as lit­tle as pos­si­ble doesn’t vary much. But be­cause Supreme Court nom­i­nees spend sev­eral long days in tele­vised hear­ings, they still man­age to re­veal a few things about them­selves, pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally.

Here are a few things we learned about Judge Neil Gor­such, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pick for the high court:

A de­lib­er­ate man­ner

Gor­such was care­ful in his phras­ing, rarely ap­peared to al­low his pulse to quicken and stead­fastly re­fused the many Demo­cratic at­tempts to get him to talk about abor­tion, guns, cam­paign fi­nance and a host of key is­sues in a way that might sig­nal how he’d rule on the Supreme Court. “If I did make a bunch of cam­paign prom­ises here, what’s that mean to the in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary?” he said.

Mak­ing up his mind

A judge on the 10th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in Den­ver since 2006, Gor­such de­scribed how he comes to de­ci­sions, start­ing with past de­ci­sions, or prece­dent. “It’s the an­chor of the law, it’s the start­ing place for a judge,” Gor­such said, not­ing he is one of the au­thors of “The Law of Ju­di­cial Prece­dent.” Democrats, though, seemed more in­ter­ested in know­ing when Gor­such might de­cide a past de­ci­sion needs to be jet­ti­soned, and which ones in par­tic­u­lar. He would not go into specifics, but listed some fac­tors to con­sider, in­clud­ing “the age of the prece­dent, how of­ten it’s been reaf­firmed, the re­liance in­ter­ests sur­round­ing it, whether it was cor­rectly de­cided, whether it was con­sti­tu­tional ver­sus statu­tory.”

Will­ing to apol­o­gize

Shortly af­ter Gor­such’s fi­nal day of tes­ti­mony be­gan, a unan­i­mous Supreme Court ruled pub­lic schools must do more for learn­ingdis­abled stu­dents than Gor­such’s 10th Cir­cuit had deemed suf­fi­cient. The opin­ion by Chief Jus­tice John Roberts took aim at a phrase from an ear­lier case that Gor­such him­self wrote about min­i­mum stan­dards. “Merely more than de min­imis progress” doesn’t cut it, Roberts wrote. Democrats seized on the rul­ing be­cause it seemed to play into their at­tack on Gor­such as too of­ten against the lit­tle guy. “If I was wrong, sen­a­tor, I was wrong be­cause I was bound by cir­cuit prece­dent and I’m sorry,” Gor­such said when Sen. Richard Durbin of Illi­nois asked him about the rul­ing.

The last nom­i­nee. What was his name?

Democrats re­main up­set about how their Repub­li­can coun­ter­parts treated Judge Mer­rick Gar­land when he was nom­i­nated to the Supreme Court by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama af­ter Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia died. Gor­such would fill the same seat be­cause the GOP blocked Gar­land. Gor­such praised Gar­land at sev­eral points, but he cited the need to re­main above the po­lit­i­cal fray in re­sist­ing Democrats’ invitation to assess the treat­ment of a fel­low judge. “Sen­a­tor, I ap­pre­ci­ate the invitation. But I know the other side has their views of this, and your side has your views of it. That by def­i­ni­tion is pol­i­tics,” Gor­such told Sen. Al Franken of Min­nesota.

Old school? Maybe. Old schools? For sure

He has de­grees from the some of the best, and old­est, schools — Columbia, Har­vard and Oxford — a Supreme Court clerk­ship, more than 10 years as a fed­eral judge and a cou­ple of books to his name. Even Democrats crit­i­cal of his record ac­knowl­edged that Gor­such has an en­vi­able ré­sumé.

In the black robe, from Den­ver

The judge’s robe — hon­est, black polyester, he said — got a lot of air play. “Putting on a robe re­minds us judges that it’s time to lose our egos and open our minds,” Gor­such said in his open­ing state­ment and re­peated in one form or an­other on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

Dis­arm­ing, but still can rum­ble

Gor­such was end­lessly charm­ing with Repub­li­cans. “Maybe it’s a West­ern thing,” Gor­such, a na­tive of Colorado, said in an ad­mir­ing riff on a civics ed­u­ca­tion project be­gun by re­tired Jus­tice San­dra Day O’Con­nor, of Ari­zona. He was oc­ca­sion­ally testy with Democrats. “I don’t ap­pre­ci­ate ... when peo­ple char­ac­ter­ize me, as I’m sure you don’t ap­pre­ci­ate it when peo­ple char­ac­ter­ize you. I like to speak for my­self. I am a judge. I am my own man,” he said in an­other ex­change with Franken.

Good­ness, gosh, golly

Some de­cid­edly old-fash­ioned words and phrases made re­peated ap­pear­ances in Gor­such’s open­ing re­marks and an­swers to ques­tions. “Good­ness no, sen­a­tor.” “Oh, good­ness, sen­a­tor. Yes.” And Gor­such also was pleased to ex­plain mut­ton bust­ing to rodeo neo­phytes. “You take a poor lit­tle kid, you find a sheep and you at­tach the one to the other and see how long they can hold off,” he said, ad­mit­ting that teenage daugh­ters Emma and Belinda had taken their turns atop a sheep. The daugh­ters were not at the hear­ing, but Gor­such’s wife, Louise, was a con­stant pres­ence.

A bigly homage

Gor­such was de­scrib­ing the most prom­i­nent sig­na­ture on the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence with a word of more re­cent vin­tage. “No one re­mem­bers who John Han­cock was but they know that that’s his sig­na­ture, be­cause he wrote his name so bigly, big and boldly,” Gor­such said.

The re­ac­tion was im­me­di­ate. “You just said ‘bigly,’ ” noted Sen. Ben Sasse of Ne­braska, as the room filled with laugh­ter.

Su­san Walsh, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Supreme Court jus­tice nom­i­nee Neil Gor­such, left, shares a laugh with Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee mem­ber Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings.

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