The Senate confirmation hearing Judge Neil Gorsuch began in Washington on Monday, over a year after a Supreme Court seat was made vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia. Scalia was one of the two most important men not in the room - as Democrats were keen to point out that Barack Obama's "consensus candidate" Merrick Garland was never given a hearing.
Gorsuch, 49, began the hearing by thanking the senators for their time and voicing his appreciation for his family and staff who had joined him during this first round of statements. A bit taken aback by the full chamber and large media presence, Gorsuch joked "this is a lot different than the last time I was here."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, began his opening statements with an homage to the late Scalia, emphasizing how the constitutional originalist understood the "crucial, but limited role" of the nation's highest court.
Republicans: Judges rule on law, not political beliefs
Grassley also made veiled allusions to the kind of activist judgments liberal justices are sometimes accused of making, saying that Scalia and Gorsuch both understood that the court "can't rewrite the constitution."
"It isn't there job to fix the law," he said. At the end of his comments, in an apparent effort to head off complaints from the Democrats that Gorsuch has too often sided with corporate interests, Grassley added that he believed the nominee would provide "all people, rich or poor…will receive equal protection under the law."
There had been a great deal of speculation in the media over whether liberals would save their fire for a more extreme candidate by allowing Gorsuch an easy time or it, or whether they would make their ire about Merrick Garland known. Ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein made is quickly clear that it would be the former.
Democrats: 'Troubling' interpretation of U.S. Constitution
"We are here under unusual circumstances," she began, calling the Republican refusal to conduct hearings on Garland's nomination "unprecedented." Republicans, who control the Senate, refused to consider Garland in Barack Obama's last year in office in a move to block the appointment of a liberal Supreme Court judge.
Feinstein struck a decidedly different tone that Grassley's ardent admiration. "Our job is to determine…how this nominee's decisions will impact the American people…and not just the rich and powerful," she then referenced a decision in which Gorsuch had sided with an employer against workers' rights.
She said the next Supreme Court justice would have the power to decide "whether a woman will continue to have control over her own body," and "whether the wealthy and corporations can buy elections." She also called out "extreme organizations" like the gun lobby's National Rifle Association (NRA) for their oversized roles in election spending.
She further called an originalist interpretation of the constitution "troubling," saying that to view it as if it was still 1789 "severely limits the genius" of the document, besides harkening back to a time of slavery and lack of rights for women.
At 49, Gorsuch is relatively young for a Supreme Court nominee and as the appointment lasts until a justice dies or steps down, his presence on the bunch could shape the judiciary for decades to come. He has made it known, however, that just because he was nominated by President Donald Trump, it does not mean he supports everything the executive has done. He said it was "disheartening" to hear the president speak badly of the judiciary after his travel ban was overturned by several federal judges.
Following the initial hearing, a round of questions from the senators will begin on Tuesday, followed by several days of discussing the nomination at the committee level. Grassley said he expected a final vote on Gorsuch's confirmation to take place on April 3.Elizabeth Schumacher