Republicans praise Gorsuch as Democrats cast doubt on Supreme Court nominee
President Trump's nominee to be the next U.S. Supreme Court justice is in the hot seat this morning on the second day of his confirmation hearings before a starkly partisan Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Monday, after listening to more than three hours of prepared opening statements and remarks by the committee, Gorsuch testified on a message of unity and respect for the rule of law while paying homage to his mentors including the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom he could replace on the bench.
Gorsuch, 49, is a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. He was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006 and confirmed by the Senate in a voice vote. He clerked for Judge David B. Sentelle on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. He attended Harvard Law and has a Ph.D. from Oxford, where he was a Marshall scholar.
Calling the judgeship a "lonely and hard job," Gorsuch hailed his own ability to remain neutral and independent in the face of an executive branch that could press its own agenda.
"Putting on a robe reminds us that it's time to lose our egos and open our minds," Gorsuch said.
Republicans, lead by committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, heaped praise on Gorsuch for his "exceptional" record.
"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. His grasp on the separation of powers — including judicial independence — enlivens his body of work," Grassley said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-SC), said in his remarks, "Donald Trump deserves to be congratulated for listening to a lot of people and coming up with what I think is the best choice available in terms of nominating someone who will keep the conservative philosophy alive and well in the court."
But Democrats have promised to push back on Trump's nominee in light of the Republicans' refusal to grant President Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, his own confirmation hearings last year.
"We're here today under very unusual circumstances," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee's ranking member, said.
"I just want to say I'm deeply disappointed that it's under these circumstances that we begin our hearing," she added.
Feinstein and other Democrats addressed issues of relevance to most Democrats in their prepared remarks -- reproductive rights, voting rights, campaign finance, the environment and gun control, while stressing the role of the Supreme Court in upholding landmark decisions and protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans, including women, people of color, other minorities and the poor.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, (D-Hawaii), told Gorsuch that she had "not seen that the rights of minorities are a priority for you. In fact, a pattern jumps out at me. You rarely seem to find in favor of the little guy."
She continued, "The Supreme Court shapes our society ... Will America be a land of exclusivity for the few or the land of opportunity for the many? Will we be a compassionate and tolerant America that embraced my mother, my brothers and me? ... You consistently choose corporations and powerful interests over people."
When it comes to religious liberties and access to contraception, Gorsuch is a defender of the First Amendment's free exercise clause, which reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
He sided with Christian employers and religious organizations in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases, in which the plaintiffs argued for an exemption from the contraception mandate in Obama's signature health care legislation, the Affordable Care Act, citing their religious beliefs.
In the Hobby Lobby case, Gorsuch wrote, "The ACA's mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong."
When it comes to criminal procedure, he dissented in the United States v. Carlos case, arguing that police officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they entered a home that had a "no trespassing" sign posted.
In a press conference last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York cautioned that Gorsuch has important questions to answer about some of his opinions, most notably "his decisions he wrote that favored the powerful over the powerless."
Schumer last week suggested that he would not support the confirmation of Gorsuch and urged his Senate Democratic colleagues to do the same.
Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society told ABC News he is confident that "Gorsuch will be confirmed."
The hearings are expected to conclude by the end of the week. Grassley announced he will call for a vote on Gorsuch's nomination on April 3.
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