Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s choice to sit on the Supreme Court, made it through his first day of confirmation hearings without a scratch, but Democrats will have more of a chance to land shots on Tuesday.
Senators stayed within party lines Monday as Democrats raised concerns over decisions they said disproportionately favored companies over workers and Republicans praised the federal judge’s originalist approach to the law.
The real fireworks are set for Tuesday, when every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee will get 30 minutes to grill Gorsuch, a 10-year veteran of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, on his judicial philosophy.
In many ways, Gorsuch’s hearing was overshadowed by FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Roughly three hours after senators spoke, Gorsuch vowed to be an honest broker: “Long before we are Republicans or Democrats, we are Americans.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Gorsuch said he would be “a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of our great nation.”
Democrats on Monday focused their attacks on Gorsuch’s skeptical view of the wide latitude courts usually give federal agencies to interpret laws.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), whose performance in other hearings of Trump nominees has fueled talk of a 2020 presidential bid, questioned whether Gorsuch was in line with senior Trump adviser Stephen Bannon’s strategy to deconstruct “the administrative state.”
Franken called that “shorthand for gutting any environmental or consumer protection measure that gets in the way of corporate profit margins.”
Democrats on Tuesday will press Gorsuch over his questioning of the “Chevron doctrine,” a principle in which the judiciary traditionally defers to the executive branch in interpreting ambiguous statutes.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said it showed an activist streak and troubling tendency to “explore broader issues than necessary.”
Democrats are also expected to go after Trump’s travel ban and Gorsuch’s views on the president’s tweets about the judicial branch. They will also likely hammer his dissent in a 10th Circuit ruling that held a trucking company was wrong to fire a driver who disobeyed orders to wait for a repair truck in sub-zero weather.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called Gorsuch’s position in that case “cold.”
Democrats remain incensed over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) refusal to grant hearings to former President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a strategy that kept a vacancy on the court that Gorsuch is now positioned to fill.
“I feel a lot of anger, in fact continued outrage, and I’m going to say to him, ‘You wouldn’t be sitting here but for the denial of this committee’s constitutional duty that was obstructed by Republicans,’ “ Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters.
But they kept their opposition toned down during the first day of hearings, a reflection of their pessimism about preventing Gorsuch from replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Gorsuch called Scalia a mentor and joked about the his fishing skills: “The justice fished with the enthusiasm of a New Yorker. He thought the harder you slapped the line on the water, somehow the more the fish would love it.”
Asked if he would bet against Gorsuch’s confirmation, Blumenthal said he’s in no mood to bet.
If Democrats were hoping to inflict any high-profile damage against Gorsuch, they fell short Monday.
Republicans rebutted Democrats’ criticism by extolling Gorsuch as a judge who would stand up to “executive overreach” and uphold the checks and balances envisioned by the nation’s Founders.
“His grasp on the separation of powers — including judicial independence — enlivens his body of work,” committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in his prepared remarks.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) called Gorsuch’s nomination to the 10th Circuit “remarkably uncontroversial,” and other Republicans have pointed out that he passed the Senate in 2006 with unanimous consent.
Gorsuch, who spoke at length publicly for the first time since his nomination, rejected the portrait that he is a judge who favors the powerful over the little guy. He insisted he only follows the law.
“My decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me, only a judgment about the laws and facts at issue in each particular case,” he said. “A good judge can promise no more than that, and a good judge should guarantee no less.”
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