Trump’s High Court Pick Begins Confirmation Process

WASHINGTON (CN) – As the Senate kicked off the confirmation hearings Monday for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, the judiciary committee quickly solidified the lines of debate.

Delivering prepared opening statements one after the other, Democrats on the committee continued weeks of attacks on Gorsuch’s record at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, saying he has consistently ruled against workers and in favor of special-interest groups.

Republicans, meanwhile, defended Gorsuch as well-qualified and subscribing to a traditional legal philosophy much in line with the one held by Justice Antonin Scalia, whose death has left the ninth seat on the Supreme Court vacant for over a year.  

Though they will have to wait until Tuesday to question him, Democrats used the 10 minutes given each of them for opening statements to blast Gorsuch for his 2013 support of the retail giant Hobby Lobby when it sued to resist the birth control mandate under Obamacare.

Gorsuch also earned criticism Monday for writing in dissent when the 10th Circuit sided with a truck driver who had been fired for abandoning his trailer to escape freezing-cold temperatures.

“In case after case, you either dismissed or rejected efforts by workers and families to recognize their rights or defend their freedoms,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told the judge this afternoon.

Democrats also cast Gorsuch’s textualist legal philosophy as outside of the “mainstream,” and questioned if he could be independent of the president who nominated him. After the election, Democrats implored President Donald Trump to pick a nominee inside the mainstream.

“This is personal, but I find this originalist judicial philosophy to be really troubling,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s top Democrat, said at the hearing. “In essence it means that judges and courts should evaluate our constitutional rights and privileges as they were understood in 1789. However, to do so would not only ignore the intent of the framers that the Constitution be a framework on which to build, but it severely limits the genius of what our constitution upholds.”

Attempting to head off these charges against Gorsuch, Republicans argued that justices on the Supreme Court should interpret the law only as written, not decide whether that law achieves a desired outcome. They said Democrats should consider whether Gorsuch is qualified, not whether he would rule in favor of causes they support.

“The issue for me is I’m waiting to hear somebody over there tell me why you’re not qualified for the job that you’re seeking,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said at the hearing.

Graham said he voted for both Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor not because he agreed with their legal theories but because both were qualified to do the job.

Republicans also attempted to calm people worried Gorsuch would be a stamp for Trump’s White House by arguing that his legal theory comes with a strong respect for the concepts of the separation of powers and checks and balances.

“Fortunately for every American, we have before us today a nominee whose body of professional work is defined by an unfailing commitment to these principles,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who chairs the committee. “His grasp on the separation of powers – including judicial independence – enlivens his body of work.”

Monday’s session was the first of at least three days of hearings on Gorsuch’s nomination, with senators starting with opening statements. Gorsuch will give his statement to the committee later in the day before the committee gets the chance to question him on Tuesday.

Also hanging over the hearing was Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit whom President Barack Obama had succeed Scalia last year. Republicans refused to hold hearings on Garland’s nomination, a denial that clearly still does not sit well with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Your nomination is part of a Republican strategy to capture our judicial branch of government,” Durbin, the Illinois Democrat, said at the hearing.

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