ShareThis Page
World

Democrats raise doubts about Trump's high court nominee

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 8:30 a.m.
Neil Gorsuch takes part in a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing as President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on March 20, 2017.
AFP/Getty Images
Neil Gorsuch takes part in a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing as President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on March 20, 2017.
In this Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch meets with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. on Capitol Hill in Washington. Thirteen months after Antonin Scalia’s death created a vacancy on the Supreme Court, hearings get under way Monday, March 20, 2017, on Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace him.
In this Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch meets with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. on Capitol Hill in Washington. Thirteen months after Antonin Scalia’s death created a vacancy on the Supreme Court, hearings get under way Monday, March 20, 2017, on Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace him.

WASHINGTON — Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, on Monday emphasized the need for judicial independence even as Trump castigates jurists who have ruled against him, while Democrats questioned whether he would rule against abortion rights and gun control while favoring corporations.

With the ideological balance of the Supreme Court at stake, the Senate Judiciary Committee opened its confirmation hearing for Gorsuch, a conservative federal appeals court judge from Colorado. Republicans praised Gorsuch, 49, as highly qualified for a lifetime appointment as a justice.

“I think we're off to a good start,” Republican Chuck Grassley, the committee's chairman, said afterward, with senators getting their first shot at questioning Gorsuch on Tuesday.

Committee Democrats noted Gorsuch has the chance to join the court only because Senate Republicans last year refused to consider former President Obama's nomination of federal appellate judge Merrick Garland. Despite slim chances of blocking his nomination in the Republican-led Senate, Democrats raised questions about Gorsuch's suitability for the job.

“Our job is to determine whether Judge Gorsuch is a reasonable, mainstream conservative or is he not,” said the panel's top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein.

Speaking publicly for the first time since Trump nominated him on Jan. 31, Gorsuch defended his judicial record in the face of Democratic criticism of his rulings.

Gorsuch, speaking mostly in generalities that could not cause him any trouble, emphasized the need for “neutral and independent judges to apply the law,” warned against judicial overreach, and referred to “the modest station we judges are meant to occupy in a democracy.

“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 said in comments in harmony with conservative criticism of unelected “activist judges.”

Gorsuch, a cool-headed and amiable jurist, gave Democrats very little ammunition to use against him, although there could be more drama when he takes questions. The hearing could last four days, providing classic Washington political theater.

Grassley said the panel is likely to vote on the nomination on April 3, with the full Senate vote likely soon after.

If Gorsuch is confirmed by the Senate, as expected, he would restore a narrow 5-4 conservative court majority. The seat has been vacant for 13 months, since the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal underscored the importance of judicial independence at a time when Trump has excoriated federal judges who have ruled against him on matters including two executive orders, put on hold by courts, to block people from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States.

Blumenthal said it was not “idle speculation” to suggest the Supreme Court might be asked to enforce a subpoena against Trump, citing FBI Director James Comey's testimony before Congress on Monday confirming an ongoing investigation into alleged collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia.

Republican Ted Cruz said there is no reason for Gorsuch to be questioned about Trump, noting that previous nominees have not had to speak about allegations made against the president who nominated them.

Democrats highlighted cases on which Gorsuch has ruled and questioned the influence of conservative interest groups in advising Trump on his selection.

Feinstein emphasized abortion. Conservatives have long opposed the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion nationwide. Feinstein called that ruling and others since then buttressing abortion rights “super precedents” deserving special deference.

Feinstein cited two Gorsuch legal opinions in which she said he “argued in favor of making it harder to convict felons who possess guns.”

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said he was worried that Gorsuch's conservative method of interpreting the Constitution “goes beyond being a philosophy and becomes an agenda” that is anti-abortion, anti-environment and pro-business.

“Will you allow the government to intrude on Americans' personal privacy and freedoms? Will you elevate the rights of corporations over those of real people? Will you rubberstamp a president whose administration has asserted that executive power is not subject to judicial review?” Leahy said.

Many Democrats contend Trump's party “stole” a Supreme Court seat by freezing out Garland.

“Your nomination is part of a Republican strategy to capture our judicial branch of government,” Sen. Dick Durbin told Gorsuch. “That is why the Senate Republicans kept this Supreme Court seat vacant for more than a year and why they left 30 judicial nominees who had received bipartisan approval of this committee to die on the Senate calendar as President Obama left office.”

Gorsuch said he has tried to treat all who come to court fairly and with respect.

“I have decided cases for Native Americans seeking to protect tribal lands, for class actions like one that ensured compensation for victims of nuclear waste pollution by corporations in Colorado,” he said. He said he has ruled for disabled students, prisoners and workers alleging civil rights violations, and for immigrants who entered the country illegally.

The court's ideological leaning could help determine the outcome of cases involving the death penalty, abortion, gun control, environmental regulations, transgender rights, voting rights, immigration, religious liberty, presidential powers and more.

Republicans hold 52 of the Senate's 100 seats. Under present rules, Gorsuch would need 60 votes to secure confirmation. If Gorsuch cannot muster 60, Republicans could change the rules to allow confirmation by a simple majority.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me