Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, faced Day 1 of his Senate confirmation hearing, with Democrats seeking to show he is pro-business, socially conservative and insufficiently independent of the president. After four hours of opening statements from committee members, Democrats also made clear they believed President Obama’s original nominee, Merrick Garland, is better qualified.
Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stated, “I am deeply disappointed that it is under these circumstances that we begin these hearings,” but noted that Democrats would give him a courtesy denied by Senate Republicans for Garland, a fair hearing. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) remarked that, “The nominee before us today is not President Trump,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or Judge Garland.
If Gorsuch is confirmed, it would establish a 5-4 conservative majority on the court. The seat has been vacant since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.
“Every nominee is important. If I conclude this one is outside the mainstream, I will use every tool at my disposal” to block his confirmation, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary committee, had told CNN.
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had said Gorsuch would be questioned on decisions he authored in which corporations won over workers.
Democrats will continue to press Gorsuch for his work as a Justice Department lawyer under President Bush from 2005 to 2006, where he helped defend policies enacted after the 9/11 attacks, including interrogation techniques.
In 2006, Gorsuch publish a book, “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” in which he argued against the legalization of the practices.
Republicans hold 52 seats of the Senate’s 100. Gorsuch would need 60 votes to secure confirmation. Republicans can change the rules to allow confirmation by simple majority.
Gorsuch’s position on the following issues:
- Birth Control, and Religion: He sided with Hobby Lobby, a business that objected to providing contraceptives supplied by Obamacare. He also ruled in favor of a Wyoming inmate who sought to use a sweat lodge in the prison yard in a Native American religious tradition.
- Federal Regulation: Gorsuch has been a strong critic of the 1984 the Supreme Court decision on Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, which encouraged courts to defer to federal agencies controlled by the executive branch.
- Abortion: He has never ruled directly on Roe v. Wade, but interest groups on both sides of the issue have seized on the language that he has used to argue against assisted suicide. “The idea that all human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong,” he wrote in “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.”
- Firearms: Gorsuch has a limited record on the second amendment, but he has ruled that the government should meet a higher standard before prosecuting felons for possession of the firearms.
- National Security: Having served in the Bush Justice Department, Gorsuch has defended “enhanced interrogation,” and expressed positive views on the Guantanamo detention facility in emails follow a visit to the facility. The emails were provided by the Trump Administration on Friday.
- Business: In a dissent by Gorsuch involving a claim for wrongful termination (trucker disobeys employer after trailer’s brakes froze stranding the trucker), Gorsuch argued “It might be fair to ask whether [the employer’s] decision was a wise or kind one … But it’s not our job to answer questions like that. Our only task is to decide whether the decision was an illegal one.” This is one of the decisions pitting ownership against employees, upon which the Democrats will be examining Gorsuch.
Gorsuch is an avowed originalist, the theory that the words in the Constitution should be interpreted as they were understood at the time they were written. This theory was brought into popular consciousness by Judge Scalia.
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