Senate holds confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee

Starting on Monday, Mar. 20, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court with nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch. Judge Gorsuch was nominated to the position by President Trump in late January. The senate is likely to conclude their hearing this week and will later take a vote in committee. If the committee votes for Gorsuch, his nomination will move before the full senate. This week the judge is undergoing hours of intense questioning from senators.

Judge Gorsuch is considered a “typical” nominee based on his background. Gorsuch received an education from Columbia University, Harvard Law School, and Oxford  University. Gorsuch then went on to serve as a judicial clerk for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He then moved into the private sector for about ten years before joining the US Department of Justice as a Principal Deputy to the Associate Attorney General. After one year, Gorsuch was nominated to the US Court of Appeals Tenth Circuit and was unanimously approved by the Senate. Gorsuch has served on the court since 2006.

On the first day of the hearings, Judge Gorsuch only spoke for a short period of time and did not answer any questions. The first day consisted of opening statements from all members of the committee as well as Gorsuch. The day was mostly filled with political jargon, support from Republicans, and opposition from Democrats. The Chairman of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), also set rules for the coming days of questioning to help limit the amount of time, but still allowed all senators to ask as many questions as they would like.

The second day of hearings, each senator was allowed one round of 30 minutes for questioning. The questions ranged from general questions like if Gorsuch would oppose the president, to narrow ones dealing with the specific language in specific cases that the judge has ruled on. When asked by multiple senators if he was willing to oppose the president who appointed him, Gorsuch quickly responded that he would have no problem in doing so. Throughout the questioning, many of the senators attempted to get the judge to discuss his stances on certain political issues. Gorsuch responded by saying that he would follow legal precedent and rule based on the law — not his own opinions. To back up this claim, the judge provided specific examples to the committee of rulings in favor of both left-wing and right-wing policies. If the judge were to take sides on an issue, he would be required to recuse himself from any cases involving that issue.

On the third day of hearings, the senators were allowed as many 20 minutes rounds as necessary. Much of time was spent not questioning Gorsuch, instead defending claims against him made by other senators. The most notable of these examples were Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who accused his democratic colleagues of hypocrisy for criticizing the rulings of a federal judge. The other ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), challenged Gorsuch on his work for the Bush administration, to which he responded that he was acting as a lawyer, not a policy maker then. Democrats also focused on portions of Gorsuch’s record that show him going against “the little guy” and instead favoring the “rich and powerful”. Gorsuch, as well as the Republicans, were quick to present evidence to the contrary.

The final day of hearings mainly consisted of testimony from both supporting and opposing parties. Judge Gorsuch will not be present this day. Before hearings began, the Senate Democrats tweeted out that they will “hear from victims of his rulings.” Along with that tweet, Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has officially announced that he, along with his fellow Democrats will filibuster the nomination. During the hearing over 25 individuals testified, both for and against the nomination. Those who came to support him were mainly Judges that once worked with Gorsuch or top academic law scholars. People who have been ruled against by Gorsuch and top academic law scholars testified against Gorsuch.

Currently, Republicans hold 52 senate seats, and Democrats control 48 (two Independent senators caucus with the Democrats). If the vote to approve Gorsuch moves to the full senate, he will need a simple majority vote of 51 in favor. However, because Schumer will filibuster, a minimum of 60 senators are needed to support the confirmation. The Senate Republicans can enact “the nuclear option” if necessary. The nuclear option would lower the requirement back to 51 votes. If this option is enacted, then some Republican senators have already stated that they would oppose the nomination on the basis of breaking traditional procedure. The majority of judges currently in the Supreme Court have been confirmed with 60 or more votes. The late Justice Antonin Scalia, who Gorsuch would replace, was confirmed 98-0.