Gorsuch eases through Senate hearings
Judge Neil Gorsuch emerged largely unscathed from Senate hearings on his Supreme Court nomination this week, after dodging most of the pointed questions from Democrats still seething over the Republicans’ refusal to consider President Obama’s nominee for the vacant seat last year. In an assured, often folksy performance in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge from Colorado stressed his judicial impartiality and said he would never be swayed by political pressure. He insisted he would have no qualms about standing up to President Donald Trump—“no man is above the law,” he said—and responded to a question about Trump’s recent attacks on federal judges by saying he found any such criticism “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” Gorsuch, a consistently conservative judge, refused to offer his views on landmark Supreme Court rulings on issues including Second Amendment rights, abortion, and campaign finance. But Gorsuch assured senators he had given “no promises on how I’d rule in any case to anyone.”
Several Democrats accused Gorsuch of consistently favoring businesses at the expense of workers, including a case in which he sided with a company that fired a trucker for abandoning his broken-down rig in freezing temperatures. Sen. Al Franken called that opinion “absurd,” but Gorsuch said there were plenty of cases “where I’ve ruled for the little guy, as well as the big guy.” Democrats also used the hearings to criticize Republicans for refusing for 10 months to consider Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee. Within hours of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last February, the GOP said it wouldn’t hold a vote on a replacement until after the election. “Your nomination,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Gorsuch, “is part of a Republican strategy to capture our judicial branch of government.”
A committee vote is expected on April 3, and the nomination will then go to a full Senate floor vote. Republicans, who control the Senate 52-48, lack the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority required to confirm Supreme Court nominees. But the GOP leadership has promised that if Democrats try to block Gorsuch’s nomination, they will change Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, as Democrats did for lower-court judicial appointments in 2013. “Gorsuch will be confirmed,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “I just can’t tell you exactly how that will happen yet.”
What the editorials said
Democratic opposition to Gorsuch’s nomination is just “political theater,” said The Wall Street Journal. Their only real attack line was that Gorsuch has ruled in favor of big companies. “So what?” Nearly 90 percent of Gorsuch’s labor and employment cases were unanimous decisions, and besides, good judges make their rulings based on the rule of law, “not which side is bigger or richer.” This is a “mainstream” judge with a “stellar record,” and he deserves to be confirmed.
“Under other circumstances, Gorsuch would be a legitimate nominee,” said The New York Times. But he is only in this position because of Republicans’ “outrageous and unprecedented blockade of Merrick Garland.” By refusing to even meet Garland, “let alone give a hearing or a vote,” Senate Republicans upended the norm that a sitting president chooses a replacement when a Supreme Court vacancy arises. The GOP’s reward for this cynical exercise in pure power? The chance to confirm a 49-year-old judge with Scalia-like conservative views, who “will be driving decisions into the middle of the 21st century.”
What the columnists said
Can we dismiss this canard that Republicans “stole” a Supreme Court seat? said Dan McLaughlin in National Review.com. Before last year, four presidents had put forward a Supreme Court nominee during their final year in office to an opposition-controlled Senate—and on three of those four occasions, the nomination process was delayed until after Election Day. Is that partisan behavior? Yes. But the GOP “acted in accordance with the dominant Senate tradition.”
Gorsuch is being hailed by conservatives as an originalist in the same mold as Scalia, said Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com. But this high-sounding judicial philosophy—which holds that the Constitution should be interpreted only as its writers meant it at the time—is nonsense. Much of that document’s wording is vague and antiquated—what does “well-regulated militia” mean in modern terms, and how does it govern the sale of assault weapons? James Madison, the Constitution’s lead architect, later said “the general will of the nation” should determine its interpretation.
Democrats simply have no basis to reject Gorsuch, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. He has been endorsed by “both liberal and conservative judicial colleagues,” and showed throughout his confirmation hearings that he is an “eminently qualified, temperamentally impressive individual.” Democrats should swallow their pride, lick their wounds, and support his nomination.
The reason this nomination is so politically fraught, said Brian Leiter in The Washington Post, is that Supreme Court justices are not impartial arbiters of laws and facts. The country’s highest court has essentially become a “super-legislature,” with the power to strike down laws based on its members’ “own moral and political values.” That’s why Republicans were so desperate to keep the seat vacant until after Election Day—and why Democrats were so infuriated. It’s time we acknowledged the power these unelected officials wield—and had “honest hearings about the moral and political views of the nominees.”
Appeals court judges Merrick Garland and Neil Gorsuch, and late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Illustration by Howard McWilliam. Cover photos from Newscom, AP, Newscom